Stringed Instruments of the Guitar Family:
- Slope Shoulder Dreadnought
- Square Shoulder Dreadnought
- Archtop Guitar
- Selmer-Maccaferri Guitars
- Resonator Guitars
- Lap Steels
- Guitar – Brief History
- Types of Guitars
- Glossary of Stringed Instrument Terms
For information on how to tune the instruments listed – click here.
Hand Made Guitars and Small Shops
Many of the small-shop produced guitars built today in shops like Dana Bourgeois’: Pantheon Guitars, Bill Colling’s: Collings Guitars, Richard Hoover’s: Santa Cruz Guitar Company, the Merrill brothers: Merrill Guitars, Huss and Dalton Guitars, Jean Goodall’s: Goodall Guitars, Morris Guitars and many others draw their inspiration from the instruments built by Martin and Gibson from the early 1930’s to the beginning of World War II.
The four main styles and shapes of acoustic guitars are Dreadnought, Slope Shoulder Dreadnought, Jumbo and OM (Orchestra Model). Most acoustic guitars draw their inspiration in some form from this tradition. Growing up in the late sixty’s I played a number of Martin 000-18 guitars and I found that the best sounding one I had was from the 30’s. It wasn’t until a trip to Greenwich Village and a meeting with a Martin collector that it was brought it to my attention the guitar was an OM-18 and not a 000-18 because the scale length was 25.4”. Martin only made the original OM from 1929 to 1934 but by the late 60’s Fingerstyle guitarists were digging around pawnshops and tag sales hoping to find one.
The body size and shape is the Martin OOO. The body to neck joint is at the 14th fret. The nut width is 1.75” and the scale length of 24.4”.
One of the first small shops to make a serious effort to recreate a version of the Martin OM was Richard Hoover’s: Santa Cruz Guitar Company during the early 70’s. Santa Cruz did such a good job that the Santa Cruz OM has remained largely unchanged to this day. There are, however, a number of subtle variations that make a difference in the sound of these instruments.
Dana Bourgeois’s shop is in Lewiston Maine: Bourgeois Guitars / Pantheon Guitars. The first guitar of Dana’s that caught our attention was The Soloist, a project where he participated with the CF Martin Company. The Soloist is an OM built in the tradition of a vintage Martin OM with the addition of a cutaway. When we ran into Dana at the 2001 NAMM show; the first guitar we asked him to build for AcousticMusic.Org was a Soloist. The first Soloists Dana built for us were German spruce and Indian rosewood, Later Dana agreed to use Madagascar and Honduran rosewood. We also ordered some with Adirondack tops. Bourgeois Guitars has gone on to make The Soloist a standard Model.
Bill Collings: Collings Guitars has refined the OM design to their remarkably high standards and found a market of varied followers that include bluegrass players as well as fingerstylists and anyone wanting a small body guitar for comfort without a compromise of power or projection.
Collings Guitars builds excellent instruments from their shop in Texas. We order the Collings OM in German and Indian Rosewood. This is one of our favorite OM style guitars. We have found that the Collings OM with a German top is good for both fingerstyle and flat-picking.
In our quest for the perfect OM we also have Jim Merrill of Merrill Guitars in Virginia build us his version of a Pre-War Martins. They are as close to a vintage Martin in detail, weight, vibe and sound as we’ve seen. Jim has made it a lifelong goal to recreate an OM as close to a vintage Martin OM as possible. We see this guitar in Adirondack and Mahogany and are never disappointed. Jim Merrill not only makes a very lightweight OM, he seems to have achieved a body-to-neck weight ratio that feels perfect. The only concession Merrill Guitars have made to the original Martin design is to have an adjustable truss rod. (Gibson Guitars invented and patented the neck truss rod designs that we see today in the 1920s. Martin instruments, therefore, had to continue with their ‘T’ rod reinforcements until the Gibson patent ran out.)
Slope Shoulder Dreadnought
All of us at AcousticMusic.Org are fans of the Slope Shoulder Dreadnought. We remember seeing Dylan, Donavan and the Beatles playing them and can spot one on a recording at the sound of the first note. We were delighted when Santa Cruz guitar Company released the Vintage Southerner. The Vintage Southerner is a short scale (24 3/4″) slope shoulder dreadnought. It has been a huge hit with Blues players and anyone in love with the old short scale Gibson dreadnoughts like the VJ (Vintage Jumbo) or the J-45. This includes fingerstyle blues players and singer/songwriters, backup rhythm players, old-time players and many more.
Bourgeois Guitars also make a wonderful slope Shoulder Dreadnought that is used many of Nashville’s top players. We often order the Slope Shoulder Dreadnought in Adirondack and Mahogany and Adirondack and Indian Rosewood. We have found this guitar to also be a great model for singer songwriters.
Square Shoulder Dreadnought
- A heavy armored British Battleship built in 1906, the first to have a large battery of 12” guns capable of being fired simultaneously in the same direction.
- Any large, powerful, heavily armored battleship of this sort. (Webster)
The first Dreadnought guitars were manufactured by Martin for the Oliver Ditson Company, a Boston based publishing firm. The guitars were sold under the Ditson brand name in Boston and New York, starting in 1916. These instruments did not have a Martin serial number, but carried a numbering system by Ditson. Until the company’s demise in the late 1920s, they continued to appear only in the Ditson catalog.
The Ditson Dreadnoughts were different from their modern counterparts: The bodies were elongated to accommodate a wider neck, 12 frets clear of the body and a slotted headstock. The early versions had a different rosette and inlay pattern and no pickguard. All of the Ditsons had mahogany backs and sides and spruce tops.
It was not until 1931 that the Martin Company began producing Dreadnought guitars with the Martin name. The first 2 models were designated D–1 and D–2. The D–1 had a mahogany body and would evolve into the D–18. The D–2 (only four were made in 1931) evolved to the popular rosewood body instrument. All of early Dreadnoughts were 12–fret necks. This didn’t change until 1934 when both the D–28s and D–18s were offered with 14–fret necks.
On the early D–18s ebony was the standard material for bridges and fretboards. Later, rosewood became the standard. Like all style 28 guitars preceding it, the early D–28 had a strip of “herringbone” marquetry binding the top. Bisecting the back at the time was a “zipper” pattern of purfling, different than that found on modern D–28s.
In 1934 The neck reinforcing of a “T” shaped piece of ebony was replaced with a similar shaped “T” of steel. This remained the way Martin reinforced its neck until the 1960s (with a brief exception during WWII).
Due to a matter of politics and economics, the herringbone purfling was discontinued on style 28 guitars in 1947. The purfling had been manufactured in pre–World War II Germany and was not available from American sources. When the original stockpile ran out, style 28 guitars were adapted to alternating black and white celluloid originally used on the Martin archtop C-2 model. In 1947: only one herringbone D–28 was made.
In late 1944 production guitars, the shape of the cross braces and lower braces attached to the guitar’s top changed. The pre–1945 braces are scalloped and lighter in mass. Functionally they create a more resonant vibrating top and provide a stronger bass response. The 1945 Dreadnoughts used Adirondack spruce for the tops and their braces were not scalloped. The 1946s are non–scalloped with a Sitka top. There were only 1,451 D–28s and 3,753 D–18s manufactured before the change in braces. Part of the reason for the bracing change was the steel string gage: Guitarists at that time were using heavy–gauge strings. These were tough on the lightly constructed guitars, especially on the Dreadnought with 25.4” long scale lengths. To compensate for the extra string tension without making the instruments too heavy, they added rigidity to the braces. In the early production years braces were positioned close to the soundhole. The result was a different flex pattern to the top. The bracing pattern was moved farther away from the soundhole in the late 1930s to add strength to the top.
Due to World War II there was a shortage of metal. As a consequence, the neck steel reinforcing “T” bar was discontinued. In its place was substituted a similar shape “T” piece of ebony. Following the war it was returned to steel. In 1967 the “T” steel bar was replaced by a square steel tube and then in 1985 the Martin Company finally introduced the first adjustable truss rod to all their steel string guitars.
Martin Guitars was locked in commercial combat with the relatively new Gibson Guitar Company in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Gibson had seen remarkable success in the marketplace with its archtop guitars and A style and F style mandolins. Martin needed to emerge with a product that could compete not only in performance but in beauty (desirability). It was the era of the silver screen and ‘talkies’ were new and popular. It was the age of the Singing Cowboy and the guitars they played on-screen had to appear right with the smartly dressed and flashy cowboy heroes. Martin responded with a ‘Dreadnought’ named after the largest of the World War One vintage battleships. It was big. Bigger than anything before and it had a sound to match the audacious size. To top it off, Martin released a D-45 version (D for ‘dreadnought’ and 45 for the most decorated version): Brazilian rosewood with mother of pearl purflings all over the top and sides. It was big and handsom with strong square shoulders, wide waist and a large lower bout with a deep body. It was a success.
Gibson Guitars realized that they needed to respond in an even flashier way in order to retain any sort of marketplace respect. They responded with the J-200: slightly bigger with more purfling lines, a sexier narrow waist and softer shoulder lines. It sported a wildly curvilinear bridge inspired by long-horn cattle, bold rectangular mother of pearl fret markers, sunburst finishes and bound pick guards. Before long, most of the movie industry cowboy stars were accessorized with Gibson J-200’s with their names blazoned across the fretboard in broad strokes of mother of pearl.
Both the Martin style dreadnought shape and the Gibson J-200 are still produced today. They are, in fact, deep and rich sounding instruments of tremendous power.
Dana Bourgeois is well known for ‘The Country Boy’, a version of the Martin style dreadnought shape. The Bourgeois Country Boy Dreadnought was first built for Ricky Skaggs. We often order this guitar with Sitka spruce tops and Mahogany back and sides and feel it is a wonderful Dreadnought with a clear clean balanced tone, with a strong punch for single note runs.
Bill Collings of Collings Guitars has a version known as the D-1A. This Dreadnought is a cannon, with an even-grain Adirondack top the balanced Projection is tight an focused.
In 1922, Lloyd Loar was hired by the Gibson Company to refine the designs of their instrument lines in an effort to boost sales. In that same year the revised Gibson L5 was released. The L5 introduced a number of innovations, including violin-like f-holes. Although the new instrument models did not do well commercially and Loar left Gibson in 1924, Gibson instruments signed by Loar are now among the most sought-after in stringed-instrument history.
Archtop guitars had sufficient power to compete with brass instruments without amplification (The first amplifiers would not be seen for musical instruments until the 1930’s). The successful design was copied and refined by many smaller American luthiers, notably John D’Angelico of New York and his student Jimmy D’Aquisto, Charles Stromberg and Son in Boston, and by other major manufacturers, including Gretsch, Epiphone, and Selmer of Paris. Archtop guitars were adopted by both jazz and country musicians, and opened the door to the new music for big bands and swing.
In 1951, Gibson released the L5CES, an L5 with a single cutaway body and two electric pickups, equally playable as either an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar. This found immediate popularity, and while purely acoustic archtop guitars such as the Gibson L-7C remain available to this day, they have become the exception. In 1958, the L5CES was fitted with the new humbucking pickups; Most archtop guitars now conform loosely to the pattern.
Interest in archtops has been revived by luthiers such as Mark Campellone, Bill Comins and Bob Benedetto. The Benedetto style of acoustic / electric archtop has been copied by luthiers such as Dale Unger, John R. Zeidler, Dana Bourgeois and others. The renewed interest in rockabilly music has led Guild to introduce a Rockabilly model electric archtop with humbucking pickups.
The top (and often the back) of the archtop guitar is either carved out of a block of book-matched – center seamed solid spruce or heat-pressed using laminations, and normally has two f-holes similar to cellos and violins. The lower of these is partly covered by an elevated pickguard so as not to damp the vibration of the top. The arching of the top and the f-holes are similar to the violin family.
Although any true archtop has a rich tone unamplified, most archtop guitars have some sort of pickup system and many are intended for this purpose. Most pickups on modern acoustic archtops are floating humbuckers placed in the neck position. This separates the pickup from the vibrations of the top.
Archtop guitars are likely to remain in production in some form as long as interest in jazz guitar and early rock and roll music persists.
Although archtop normally refers to a hollow-bodied instrument, some makers of solid-bodied guitars with carved bellies also refer to these as archtop to distinguish these from flat top guitars. For example, Gibson refers to the standard Gibson Les Paul as an arch top to distinguish it from flat top models such as the Les Paul Junior and Melody Maker.
A continuum exists from these solid body, purely electric instruments to purely acoustic instruments similar to the original Orville Gibson design, including:
- Solid body instruments, such as the Les Paul standard, with a carved but solid body. Instruments with a solid core but hollow wings, such as the Gibson ES-335 and 336. In these the bridge is fixed to a solid block of wood rather than to a sounding board, and the belly vibration is minimized to eliminate feedback problems when amplified at high volumes.
- Thin-bodied semi-acoustic instruments, such as the Gibson ES-330. These possess both a sounding board and sound box, but the function of these is purely to modify the sound transmitted to the pickups. Such guitars are still intended purely as electric instruments.
- The prototypical archtop, which although most often fitted with one or more pickups and normally amplified if pickups are fitted, also retains a full-size body and a powerful acoustic tone suitable both for chords and for melody work. All of these types may be loosely described as archtop.
All of these types may be loosely described as archtop.
Dana Bourgeois also builds an Arch top guitar, the Bourgeois A-350, offered with a floating pickup as the A-360. Jazz and fingerstyle players find this guitar to be an excellent instrument. As a jazz archtop it will stand up to any guitar we a have seen. Interestingly, Fingerstyle players also find the Bourgeois A-350 to be an excellent second voice for their guitar playing. It is not obvious at a first listening but it makes a wonderful recording instrument due to the balance and clarity of tone. Microphones love it!
Macaferri Style Guitars, Selmer-Maccaferri Guitars, Selmer Guitars, Gypsy Jazz Guitars
The original Selmer Guitars were developed from a design by Mario Maccaferri (1900-1993) with a large D-shaped soundhole (“grande bouche,” or “big mouth”). The shape was developed accommodate an internal resonator – this was designed for more volume and to even-out variations in volume and tone between strings. The scale was 640mm and the fretting was similar to Gibsons and Martins, but with a wider fretboard typical of a classical guitar. Mario Maccaferri had been a well-known performing classical guitar player before an auto accident damaged his hands and ended his performing carrier. There were no amplifiers for guitars in the late 1920’s and Maccaferri wanted to invent a louder instrument to be able to perform to larger crowds. The design worked but the tone didn’t lend itself to classical music. They did, however, find and important niche. Many of the guitars, produced in 1932 and 1933 were sold to the UK market via Selmer’s London showroom and it was during this period that the guitars became known as “Maccaferri’s” to the Britons.
The Internal Resonator was not a successful innovation and was quickly dropped on Maccaferri’s departure from Selmer. Many of the remaining early instruments have since had the resonator removed. It was prone to buzzing and rattling and made repairs difficult. However, some modern builders of Selmer-style instruments, including Canadian luthier Michael Dunn, who uses his own design, have resurrected the feature.
Maccaferri designed the original guitars and oversaw the manufacturing process but his involvement with Selmer ended after 18 months. Over the next few years, the design evolved without his input and, by 1936, a new version of the Selmer guitar had appeared. These later guitars have a narrow oval soundhole (the “petite bouche,” or “little mouth”), revised internal bracing and a longer scale length of 670mm. The significant difference was they were designed with a neck-to-body joint at the 14th fret offering better access to the upper frets. This is especially important for these instruments as they have the rather unique ability to hold the string volume even at the highest frets.
The majority of guitars produced after the Maccaferri period were sold in Selmer’s native France; these later guitars are generally referred to as “Selmer’s” (as are the earlier guitars by the French).
While Maccaferri may no longer have been around (and his cherished resonator had been abandoned), the later guitars retain many unusual characteristics of his original innovative design, including the world’s first sealed oil-bath machine heads and a top that is bent, mandolin-style, behind the floating bridge – something that contributes to the guitar’s remarkable volume when played.
Use: Before the advent of amplification, Selmer’s had the same kind of appeal for European players that the archtop guitar did in America: it was loud enough to be heard over the other instruments in a band. The “petite bouche” model has an especially loud and cutting voice, and even today it remains the design preferred by lead players in Django-style Jazz Manouche bands, while the accompanying rhythm players often use D-hole instruments. This was the lineup in Django’s Quintette du Hot Club de France during its classic period in the 1930s, and it remains the model for similar bands today.
Currently the Selmer guitar is generally associated with Django Reinhardt and the “gypsy jazz” school of music. From the 1930s through to the 1950s, however, Selmer’s were used by all types of performers in France and in the UK. The early Selmer’s sold in the UK market were used for dance bands and were associated with performers such as Len Figgis and Al Bowlly. In France, the Selmer was the top professional guitar for many years and can be heard in everything from musette to the backing of chansonniers. Leading players ranged from Henri Crolla to Sacha Distel. More recently, the style of guitar (albeit a modification developed by Favino) has been associated with Enrico Macias.
Selmer did not make large numbers of guitars (fewer than 1,000 were ever built) and the company stopped production altogether by 1952 so original Selmer’s command high prices. Before the current rise in interest in Django and his guitars, other European builders were producing instruments imitating the Selmer design: Busato, Di Mauro, Favino and Patenotte and others for example. More recently other luthiers and small shops have offered either faithful copies or interpretations and extensions of Selmer designs, including Maurice Dupont and Gallato in France; Robert Aylward, David Hodson, and John LeVoi in the United Kingdom; Michael Collins, Michael Dunn, and Shelley Park in Canada; Dell’Arte Guitars in the United States; Leo Eimers, Gerrit van Bergeijk in the Netherlands and Risto Ivanovski of Macedonia.
Selmer Guitar Models: Although best-known for its steel-string D-hole and oval-hole guitars (known initially as the “Orchestre” and later the “Jazz” model), Selmer, during the Maccaferri period, also made and sold Maccaferri-designed classical guitars, harp guitars, 6 and 7 string Hawaiian guitars, tenor guitars and the “Eddie Freeman Special” (a 4-string guitar with the scale-length and body-size of a standard guitar) designed to be used with a special Re-entrant tuning that was briefly successful in the UK market. Most of these “other” instruments featured Maccaferri’s distinctive D-shaped soundhole and some contained the resonator. Production of all but the Modèle Jazz had ended by the mid-1930s.
Resonator guitars are of two styles:
- Square necked guitars designed to be played in steel guitar style.
- Round necked guitars, which may be played in either the conventional classical guitar style or in the lap steel guitar style.
There are three main resonator designs:
- The “tricone” (“tri” in reference to the three metal cones/resonators) design of the first National resonator guitars.
- The single inverted-cone design of the Dobro.
- The spiderless single cone “biscuit” design of other National instruments.
Many variations of all of these styles and designs have been produced under many brands. The body of a resonator guitar may be made of wood, metal, or occasionally other materials. Typically there are two main soundholes, positioned on either side of the fingerboard extension. In the case of single cone models, the soundholes are either both circular or both f-shaped, and symmetrical; The older “tricone” design has irregularly shaped sound holes. Cutaway body styles may truncate or omit the lower f-hole.
The resonator guitar was developed by John Dopyera, seeking to produce a guitar that would have sufficient volume to be heard alongside brass and reed instruments, in response to a request from steel guitar player George Beauchamp. Dopyera experimented with configurations of up to four resonator cones, and cones composed of several different metals.
In 1927, Dopyera and Beauchamp formed the National String Instrument Corporation to manufacture resonator guitars under the brand name National. The first models were metal-bodied and featured three conical aluminum resonators joined by a T-shaped aluminum spider which supported the bridge, a system called the “tricone”. Wooden-bodied tricone models were also produced with bodies sourced from the Regal Musical Instrument Company and other established guitar manufacturers. Cheap plywood student instruments were particularly used for conversion to resonator instruments.
A Dobro style resonator guitar
In 1928, Dopyera left National to form the Dobro Manufacturing Company with his brothers Rudy, Emile, Robert and Louis, Dobro being a contraction of Dopyera Brothers’ and also meaning “good” in their native Slovak language. They released a competing resonator guitar with a single resonator with its concave surface uppermost, often described as bowl-shaped, under a distinctive circular perforated metal cover plate with the bridge at its centre resting on an eight-legged aluminum spider. This system was cheaper to produce, and produced more volume than National’s tricone.
National countered the Dobro with their own single resonator model, which had previously been designed by Dopyera before he left the company, while also continuing to produce the tricone design which many players preferred for its tone. Both the National single and tricone resonators remained conical with their convex surfaces uppermost; The single resonator models used a wooden biscuit at the cone apex to support the bridge. Both companies at this stage were sourcing many components, and notably the aluminum resonators themselves, from Adolph Rickenbacker National Dobro, Hound Dog, and Gibson
Epiphone “biscuit” resonator guitar.
After much legal action, the Dopyera brothers gained control of both the National and Dobro companies in 1932, and subsequently merged them to form the National Dobro Corporation. However all production of resonator guitars by this company ceased following the US entry into the Second World War in 1941.
Emile Dopyera (also known as Ed Dopera) manufactured Dobros from 1959, before selling the company and name to Semie Moseley, who merged it with his Mosrite guitar company and manufactured Dobros for a time.
In 1967, Rudy and Emile Dopyera formed the Original Musical Instrument Company (OMI) to manufacture resonator guitars, first branded Hound Dog. In 1970 they again acquired the Dobro name, Mosrite having gone into temporary liquidation.
OMI was acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1993, who announced they would defend their right to exclusive use of the Dobro name, which had come to be commonly used for any resonator guitar. As of 2006, they produce several round sound hole models under the Dobro name, and cheaper f-hole models both under the Hound Dog name and also their Epiphone brand. All have a single resonator, and many are available in either round or square neck.
Regal Musical Instrument Company
As well as providing wooden bodies and other components to both National and Dobro from the very early days of the resonator, the Regal Musical Instrument Company produced entire resonator guitars under license from Dobro from the early 1930s.
In 1937 they secured exclusive rights to manufacture resonator instruments, which were sold under various names including both Regal and Dobro. During the Second World War production of resonator guitars ceased owing to material shortages, and did not resume afterwards. Regal ceased all production of fretted instruments in 1954.
In 1987 the brand and trademark reappeared as a brand of Saga Musical Instruments. As of 2006 they produce a large range of resonator instruments, including both single and tricone, metal and wooden bodied, round and square necked. As well as 6 string guitars, there are 4 string bass models.
Other National instruments
The famous Brothers in Arms album from Dire Straits, featuring a National Style 0 Resonator.
After the formation of the National Dobro Corporation, the term National was often used to mean an instrument with a non-inverted cone, to distinguish these designs from the inverted-cone Dobro. Makers particularly used it for single-cone biscuit designs, as the relatively elaborate and expensive tricone was for some time out of production. Players and collectors also used the term for the older tricone instruments, which despite their softer volume and rarity were still preferred by some players.
In 1942, the National Dobro Corporation, which no longer produced Dobros or any other resonator instruments, was reorganized and renamed Valco. Valco produced a large volume and variety of fretted instruments under many names, with National as their premium brand. By the early 1960s, Valco was again producing resonator guitars for mail order under the National brand name. These instruments had biscuit resonators and bodies of wood and fiberglass.
In the late 1980s, the National brand and trademark reappeared with the formation of National Reso-Phonic Guitars. As of 2006, they produce 6 string resonator guitars of all three traditional resonator types, focusing on reproducing the feel and sound of old instruments. Their other resonator instruments include a 12-string guitar, ukuleles and mandolins.
Playing Resonator Guitars
Resonator guitars are most often used:
- In bluegrass music, traditionally a square necked Dobro played as a steel guitar.
- In blues, traditionally a round necked National pattern, often but not always played with a bottleneck.
These stereotypes are often disregarded by top players. Crossing musical boundaries is an even stronger tradition of resonator guitar playing.
A common cliché in cinema is to use slow slide resonator guitar music to introduce a rural scene set in the Southern USA.
Styles and Positions
The resonator guitar is most often played as a lap steel guitar, and the more common square necked version is limited to this playing position. Square neck instruments are always set up with the high action favored by steel guitar players, and tuned to a suitable open tuning.
The round necked version is equally capable in either lap steel or Spanish guitar position. It may be set up with a variety of action heights, ranging from the half inch favored for steel guitar (making use of the frets almost impossible) to the small fraction of an inch used by conventional guitarists. A compromise is most common, allowing use of a bottleneck on the top strings but also use of the frets as desired, with the guitar played in the conventional position.
Many different tunings are used. Some square neck tunings are not recommended for round neck resonator guitars, owing to the high string tension required, which in turn requires the stronger square neck. Slack-key guitar tunings are most suitable for bottleneck playing, and conventional E-A-D-G-B-E guitar tuning is also popular.
- resonator guitar played lap steel guitar style
- resonator guitar played bottleneck style
- resonator guitar played Spanish style
In bluegrass music
The resonator guitar was introduced to bluegrass music by Josh Graves, who played with Flatt and Scruggs, in the mid-1950s. Graves utilized the hard-driving, syncopated three-finger picking style developed by Earl Scruggs for the five-string banjo. Modern players continue to play the instrument this way, with one notable exception being Tut Taylor who plays with a flat pick.
Tuning for the resonator guitar within the bluegrass genre is most often an open G with the strings pitched to D G D G B D or G B D G B D, from the lowest to highest. Occasionally variant tunings are used, such as an open D: D A D F# A D
Other notable bluegrass players include Jerry Douglas, Mike Auldridge, Rob Ickes, Phil Leadbetter and Emily Robison of Dixie Chicks.
In country music
The resonator guitar was used in older country music, notably by “Brother Oswald” of Roy Acuff’s band, but has been largely supplanted by the pedal steel guitar.
In blues music
The resonator guitar is also significant to the world of blues music, particularly the Southern style of country blues that grew out of the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana. Unlike country and bluegrass players, blues players play the resonator guitar in the standard guitar position, with the strings facing away from the player. Many use slides or bottlenecks.
Many players in the 1920s and 1930s, including the great Son House, and others like Bukka White, Tampa Red and Blind Boy Fuller, used the instruments because they were louder than standard acoustic guitars, which enabled them to play for a larger crowd in areas that did not yet have electricity for amplifiers. For the same reason street musicians like Arvella Gray used resonator guitars while busking, e.g. on Chicago’s Maxwell Street. The instrument is still used by some blues players, notably Taj Mahal, Eric Sardinas, and Alvin Hart.
Varieties of resonator guitar
Single resonator guitars with a bowl resonator and spider (Dobro style) are often heard in bluegrass music, while tricone (National style) instruments are still preferred by many blues players. Single-resonator biscuit (also sometimes called National style) instruments are also currently produced, and give a different sound again.
Many bluegrass players prefer wooden bodies, blues players either metal or wood. The early metal-bodied instruments were generally of better quality than the earliest wooden-bodied ones, but this may not be the case with more recent instruments. Metal bodies may be brass, aluminum or steel. Fiberglass has also been used as a body material, and a marble bodied resonator guitar is commercially available. Both metal and wooden bodies are often painted, or wooden bodies may be stained or lacquered, metal bodies may be plated or plain.
Bluegrass players tend to use square necks, while blues players tend to prefer round necks. Square-necked guitars give a slightly greater variety of possible tunings, while round-necked guitars give a much greater variety of playing positions.
Single resonator instruments can have round sound holes with screens, round sound holes without screens which many players used to remove anyway to improve the bass response, or f-holes, often with gauze screens which are also sometimes removed but have an important function in strengthening the belly particularly if the body is of wood.
An enormous number of combinations are possible, most can be found either on old or new instruments or both, and many styles of music can be played on any resonator guitar.
Although the original aim of the resonator was increased volume, some modern instruments incorporate electric pickups, and players add pickups to non-electric instruments, and use the resonator purely for its distinctive tone. As the resonator is far more sensitive to audio feedback than any semi-acoustic guitar, the design of these pickups is extremely critical and specialized.
Other resonator instruments
As well as resonator guitars, resonators have been used on:
- Basses, available from Regal as of 2006.
- Ukuleles, produced by National and Dobro1928-1940.
- Tenor guitars.
- Mandolins and mandolas.
- National Stringed Instrument Corporation.
- Regal Musical Instrument Company, under license from Dobro (the only license granted).
- Original Musical Instrument Company.
- Ellis Guitars 6,7,8 string, baritone and harp resonator guitars
- National Reso-Phonic Guitars.
- Numerous smaller manufacturers and individual luthiers.
- Regal manufactured for many brands under its license, including Regal, Old Kraftsman, and Ward.
As of 2006 the three most famous historic brands of resonator guitar, National, Dobro and Regal, were all in use, but all by different companies to the ones that produced the historical instruments, each after one or more long breaks in production:
The National name is used by National Reso-Phonic Guitars, founded in 1987, who specialize in reproductions of historic instruments of all brands, not just National pattern instruments.
The Dobro name has been owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation since 1993.
The Regal name has been a brand of Saga Musical Instruments since 1987.
- #1,741,453 covering the tricone.
- #1,808,756 covering the Dobro.
- #1,896,484 covering the biscuit single cone resonator, lodged in the name of Beauchamp.
- Son House
- Jeff Lang
- John Butler
- Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones)
- Duane Allman
- Mike Auldridge
- Baby Gramps
- Bob Brozman
- John Butler
- Billy Cardine
- Cindy Cashdollar
- Eric Clapton
- Dave Matthews
- Bruce Cockburn
- Jerry Douglas
- Garrett Dutton
- Blind Boy Fuller
- Rory Gallagher
- Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
- Clifton Hyde
- Keb’ Mo’
- David Gilmour
- Josh Graves of the Foggy Mountain Boys
- John Hammond
- Alvin Hart
- Corey Harris
- Bill Homans (aka “Watermelon Slim”)
- Sol Hoopii
- Son House
- Rob Ickes
- Glenn Kaiser
- Pepper Keenan
- Chris Thomas King
- Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits – a National is featured on the cover of their best selling album Brothers In Arms
- Phil Leadbetter
- Taj Mahal
- Tampa Red
- Emily Robison
- James Michael Thompson
- Jeff Martin
- Eric Sardinas
- Derek Trucks
- Bukka White
- Rocco Deluca
- Chris Whitley
- Johnny Winter
- Gene Wooten
- Charlie Parr
- Mike Doughty
- Ash Grunwald
- Sara Quin
- Leonard Wyeth
- Brian Wolfe
Lap Slide Guitar
Lap slide guitars are now the least common of the three types of lap steel guitar, despite having been developed slightly before the electric steel guitar and the resonator guitar, those being the other two types, and both of them being intrinsically very much louder than the lap slide guitar. However renewed interest in acoustic instruments in the 1990s, associated with improving amplification techniques and interest in vintage and historical musical instruments, has led to a resurgence in interest in the distinctive sound of these instruments.
The name lap slide guitar is something of an anomaly, as slide guitar normally includes both steel and bottleneck playing, or sometimes may even mean bottleneck playing only. However the bottleneck type of slide is not normally used in lap steel position, so lap slide guitar means specifically one played with a steel.
The most basic form of lap slide guitar is a regular acoustic guitar that has been modified for this purpose by either replacing the nut and bridge saddle with taller versions or by fitting a shim under the originals. This is done to raise the strings away from the fretboard. Regular guitar players keep the strings close to the fretboard to ensure ease of playing while lap slide players aim for the opposite by ensuring the strings never come into contact with the frets.
The most common form of lap slide guitar is the “Weissenborn” style. This kind of guitar takes its name from one of the original manufacturers and, as with the Dobro, the company’s name has become a generic name for all guitars of this style.
This type of guitar is similar in appearance and construction to a regular acoustic guitar with one defining difference. The neck is square and hollow with the back and sides of the guitar not stopping at the joint between the neck and body (the heel) but continuing up to the headstock giving an increased volume due to the larger internal area of the sound chamber.
Lap slide guitars (and other lapslide instruments) are played in a different manner to the regular guitar. Instead of playing them upright and with the strings facing away from you, they are played laid flat either on the lap, on a stand or stool, or standing up using a guitar strap designed to accommodate the different angle.
As with all guitars the notes and chords are produced by artificially shortening the strings with one hand while plucking them with the other. Unlike standard guitars the notes are not sounded by pressing the string to the fretboard but are created by using light pressure on the strings from an object held in the hand.
The term “object” is used because, although the majority of players use specifically manufactured slides, almost any suitable item can be used. The key to which objects can and cannot be used are shape; The item must be easy to hold and have a rounded edge to apply to the strings, and material; Usually metal, due to its high density.
Many players of standard slide guitar (that is to say not played on the lap) use glass, ceramic, steel or brass slides. Lap slide players prefer metal slides because the high action of the strings allow the use of a heavier slide for improved tone and sustain. Standard slide guitar players use slides that are of the bottleneck design and worn over one finger. Lap slide, Dobro, lap steel and pedal steel players generally use solid bars made from machined steel coated with chrome, hence the term “steel guitar”.
As with all styles of slide guitar, standard tuning is uncommon, most players preferring to use open tuning.
Lap slide vs standard slide
As previously stated, lap slide players can use a bar style slide rather than the bottleneck style slide that standard style sliders are restricted to. Improved tone and volume are one benefit. It is also more suited to various techniques that are more difficult with a guitar held in the normal position. It is much easier to play melodies on strings other than the top one or two strings, it is easier to bar the lower strings whilst leaving the top strings open, and it is easier to slant the bar for more complex chord sounds.
The exponents of either style may argue the case either way. Some players choose one style or the other, others exploit both styles.
Playing a guitar laid flat and using a bar to slide up and down the strings has been common in the Hawaiian Islands for well over a century. The exact beginnings are lost in the mists of time but it gained popularity as a playing style in America in the post war years when servicemen returning from stations in the pacific brought this “new” idea with them.
Hawaiian guitar became something of a craze for a while. This encouraged manufacturers like Hermann C. Weissenborn and Chris J. Knutsen to develop their own instruments for the growing market. It is the surviving examples of these instruments that are the most coveted by players and that provide the most inspiration to current manufacturers.
Using a slide on a regular guitar has been documented from the early days of the blues. The composer W. C. Handy, whilst waiting at a train station in Mississippi, witnessed an unknown player who left a lasting impression on him. “As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable.”
- David Gilmour plays Jedsen, Gibson lap steel guitars, and a Fender Champ lap steel.
- Ben Harper plays a Weissenborn.
- Bob Brozman plays Bear Creek Guitars, Weissenborn and resonator style guitars.
- Kelly Joe Phelps plays a Gibson acoustic modified for lap slide.
- David Lindley plays a Weissenborn.
- Jerry Douglas usually plays a resonator style but occasionally uses a Weissenborn.
- Xavier Rudd
- John Butler
- Sunil Ganguly
- Andrew Winton six and seven string lap guitar
- Myk Freedman
- Jeff Lang
- James Michael Thompson
- Adam Hole
- Jeff Peterson plays resonator style and lap steel style guitars
- Emily Robison
- Gerald Ross
- Leonard Wyeth
- Brian Wolfe
- Ebin Parker
Style 1 instruments have no body or fingerboard binding. There are three concentric wood circles inlaid around the soundhole, and single mother-of-pearl dot markers at frets five, seven, nine, 12, and 17. “Bat-wing” bridges with metal saddles were standard on all Weissenborns. Spruce tops were optional (but rare) on Styles 1 and 2.
Style 2 instruments have black celluloid tops and back body binding, rope binding around the soundhole, white wood fingerboard binding, fancier fret markers in various patterns, and sometimes a first-fret triangle with its flat side resting against the nut. Style 2 fingerboards have a French curve overhanging the soundhole (the other three styles are squared off).
Style 3 Weissenborns feature rope binding around the top, fingerboard, and soundhole; usually a diamond inlay at the 12th fret; and double dots at frets five and nine.
Style 4 is similar to Style 3, with added rope binding around the peghead and back, and a triangle inlay between the nut and the first fret. Some examples have sanded braces and internal wood surfaces.
Another Weissenborn The teardrop’s features suggest an instrument of the late ’20s or early ’30s; in the Depression era. They have lacquer finish (which replaced shellac at about that time), a thicker headstock (with tuning posts placed closer to the nut), and a bridge that’s 4-1/4 inches across its top edge. This narrower bridge is partnered with an enlarged bridge plate (to counter top sinkage in front of the bridge and bellying behind it) that begins under the cross of the X brace and tapers behind the bridge.
The Kona versions of a weissenborn follow the same styles but have round necks.
Mandolin construction: A mandolin’s typically hollow wooden body has a neck with a flat (or slightly radiused) fretted fingerboard, a nut and floating bridge, a tailpiece or pinblock at the edge of the face to which the strings are attached and mechanical tuning machines, rather than friction pegs, to accommodate metal strings. Like the guitar, the mandolin has relatively poor sustain; that is, the sound from a plucked string decays quickly. A note cannot be maintained for an arbitrary length of time as with a bowed note on a violin. Its small size and higher pitch makes this problem more severe than with the guitar, and the use of tremolo (rapid picking of one or more pairs of strings) is often used to create a sustained note or chords. This technique works particularly well with a mandolin’s paired strings, where one of the pair is sounding while the other is being struck by the pick, giving a more rounded and continuous sound than is possible with a single coursed instrument.
- Carved (acoustic-electric) and round backed mandolins (front)
- Carved and round backed mandolins (back)
- Gibson F5-style mandolin (f-holes)
- Gibson A5-style mandolin (f-holes)
Mandolins come in several forms. The Neapolitan style, known as a round-back or bowl-back, (or “tater-bug,” colloquial American), has a vaulted back made of a number of strips of wood in a bowl formation, similar to a lute, and usually a canted, two-plane, uncarved top. The Portuguese bandolim, a flat-back style, is derived from the cittern, but is tuned the same as most mandolins. Another form has a banjo-style body.
At the very end of the nineteenth century, a new style, with a carved top and back construction inspired by violin family instruments began to supplant the European-style bowl-back instruments, especially in the United States. This new style is credited to mandolins designed and built by Orville Gibson, a Kalamazoo, Michigan violinmaker who founded the “Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Limited.” in 1902. Gibson mandolins evolved into two basic styles: the Florentine or F-style, which has a decorative scroll near the neck, two points on the lower body, and usually a scroll carved into the headstock; and the A-style, which is pear shaped, has no points, and usually has a simpler headstock.
These styles generally have either two f-shaped soundholes like a violin (F-5 and A-5), or an oval sound hole (F-4 and A-4 and lower models) directly under the strings. Much variation exists between makers working from these archetypes, and other variants have become increasingly common. The Gibson F-hole F-5-style mandolins have come to be considered the most typical and traditional for playing American bluegrass music, while the A-style is generally more associated with Irish, folk, or classical music. The more complicated woodwork also translates into a more expensive instrument.
Internal bracing in the F-style mandolins was usually achieved with parallel tone bars, similar to a violin’s bassbar. Some makers instead employ “x-bracing” which is simply two tone bars mortised to each other to cross into an X supporting the top. Some luthiers are now using a “modified x-bracing,” which incorporates both a tone bar and x-bracing.
Numerous modern mandolin makers build instruments that are largely replicas of the Gibson F-5 Artist models built in the early 1920s by Gibson acoustician Lloyd Loar. Original Loar-signed instruments are sought after and extremely valuable.
Other American-made variants include the Howe-Orme guitar-shaped mandolin (manufactured by the Elias Howe Company between 1897 and roughly 1920), which featured a cylindrical bulge along the top from fingerboard end to tailpiece, and the Vega mando-lute (more commonly called a cylinder-back mandolin manufactured by the Vega Company between 1913 and roughly 1927), which had a similar longitudinal bulge but on the back rather than the front of the instrument.
As with almost every other contemporary string instrument, another modern variant is the electric mandolin. These mandolins can have four (single), five (single) or eight (double) strings.
Mandolins evolved from the lute family in Italy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the deep bowled mandolin produced particularly in Naples became a common type in the nineteenth century. The original instrument was the mandore (mandorla is “almond” in Italian, describing the instrument’s body shape) and evolved in the fourteenth century from the lute. As time passed and the instrument spread around Europe, it took on many names and various structural characteristics.
Further back, dating to around 15,000 BC to 8,000 BC, single stringed instruments have been seen in cave paintings and murals. They were struck, plucked, and eventually bowed. From these, the families of stringed instruments developed. Single strings were long and gave a single melody line. To shorten the scale length, other strings were added with a different tension and pitch so one string took over where another left off. In turn, this led to being able to play diads and chords. The bowed family became the rabob, rebec and then the fiddle evolving into the modern violin family by 1520 (incidentally also in Italy). The plucked family led to lute-like instruments in 2000 BC Mesopotamia, and developed into the oud or ud before appearing in Spain, first documented around 711 AD, courtesy of the Moors.
Over the next centuries, frets were added and the strings doubled to courses, leading to the first lute appearing in the thirteenth century. The history of the lute and the mandolin are intertwined from this point. The lute gained a fifth course by the fifteenth century, a sixth a century later, and up to thirteen courses in its heyday. As early as the fourteenth century a miniature lute or mandora appeared. Similar to the mandola, it had counterparts in Assyria (pandura), the Arab countries (dambura), and Ukraine (kobza-bandura). From this, the mandolino (a small gut-strung mandola with six strings tuned g b e’ a’ d g sometimes called the Baroque mandolin and played with a quill, wooden plectrum or finger-style) was developed in several places in Italy. The mandolino was sometimes called a mandolin in the early eighteenth century (around 1735) Naples. At this point, all such instruments were strung with gut strings.
The first evidence of modern steel-strung mandolins is from literature regarding popular Italian players who traveled through Europe teaching and giving concerts. Notable is Signor Leone and G. B. Gervasio who traveled widely between 1750 and 1810. This, with the records gleaned from the Italian Vinaccia family of luthiers in Naples, Italy, lead some musicologists to believe that the modern steel-strung mandolin was developed in Naples by the Vinaccia family. Gennaro Vinaccia was active circa 1710 to circa 1788, and Antonio Vinaccia was active circa 1734 to circa 1796. An early extant example of a mandolin is one built by Antonio Vinaccia in 1772 which resides at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Another is by Giuseppe Vinaccia built in 1763, residing at the Kenneth G. Fiske Museum of Musical Instruments in Claremont, California. The earliest extant mandolin was built in 1744 by Gaetano Vinaccia. It resides in the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Brussels, Belgium: These early mandolins are termed Neapolitan mandolins, because of their origin from Naples. They are distinguished by an almond-shaped body with a bowled back that is constructed from curved strips of wood along its length. The soundtable is bent just behind the bridge, the bending achieved with a heated bending iron. This “canted” table aids the body to support a greater string tension. A hardwood fingerboard is flush with the soundtable. Ten metal or ivory frets are spaced along the neck in semitones, with additional frets glued upon the soundtable. The strings are brass except for the lowest string course which are gut or metal wound onto gut. The bridge is a movable length of hardwood or ivory placed in front of ivory pins that hold the strings. Wooden tuning pegs are inserted through the back of a flat pegboard. The mandolins have a tortoise shell pickguard below the soundhole under the strings. A quill or shaped piece of tortoise shell is used as a plectrum.
Other luthiers that built mandolins included Calace (1863 onwards) in Naples, Luigi Embergher (1856–1943), Ferrari family (1716 onwards, also originally mandolino makers) and De Santi (1834–1916) in Rome. The Neapolitan style of mandolin construction was adopted and developed by others, notably in Rome, giving two distinct but similar types of mandolin — Neapolitan and Roman.
The twentieth century saw the rise in popularity of the mandolin for Celtic, bluegrass, jazz and classical styles. Much of the development of the mandolin from Neapolitan bowl-back to the flat-back style (actually, gently rounded and carved like a violin) is attributable to Orville Gibson (1856–1918). See above.
The mandolin is the soprano member of the mandolin family, as the violin is the soprano member of the violin family. Like the violin, its scale length is typically about 13 inches (330 mm). Modern American mandolins modeled after Gibson’s have a longer scale, about 13-7/8″ (352mm).
Other members of the mandolin family are:
- The mandola (US and Canada), termed the tenor mandola in Europe, Ireland and the UK, which is tuned to a fifth below the mandolin, in the same relationship as that of the viola to the violin. Some also call this instrument the “alto mandola.” Its scale length is typically about 16.5 inches (420 mm). It is normally tuned like a viola: C-G-D-A.
- The octave mandolin (US and Canada), termed the octave mandola or mandole in Europe, Ireland, and the UK, which is tuned an octave below the mandolin. Its scale length is typically about 20 inches (500 mm), although instruments with scales as short as 17 inches (430 mm) or as long as 21 inches (530 mm) are not unknown.
- The mandocello, which is classically tuned to an octave plus a fifth below the mandolin, in the same relationship as that of the cello to the violin: C-G-D-A. Today, it is not infrequently restrung for octave mandolin tuning or the Irish bouzouki’s GDAD. Its scale length is typically about 25 inches (635 mm). A typical violoncello scale is 27″ (686mm).
- The Greek laouto is essentially a mandocello, ordinarily tuned D-G-D-A, with half of each pair of the lower two courses being tuned an octave high on a lighter gauge string. The body is a staved bowl, the saddle-less bridge glued to the flat face like most ouds and lutes, with mechanical tuners, steel strings and tied gut frets. Modern laoutos, as played on Crete, have the entire lower course tuned in octaves as well as being tuned a reentrant octave above the expected D. Its scale length is typically about 28 inches (712mm).
- The mando-bass, has 4 single strings, rather than double courses, and is tuned like a double bass. These were made by the Gibson company in the early twentieth century, but appear to have never been very common. Reportedly, most mandolin orchestras preferred to use the ordinary double bass, rather than a specialized mandolin family instrument. Calace and other Italian makers predating Gibson also made mandolin-basses.
- The piccolo or sopranino mandolin is a rare member of the family, tuned one octave above the tenor mandola and one fourth above the mandolin; the same relation as that of the piccolo or sopranino violin to the violin and viola. One model was manufactured by the Lyon & Healy company under the Leland brand. A handful of contemporary luthiers build piccolo mandolins. Its scale length is typically about 9.5 inches (240 mm).
- The Irish bouzouki is also considered a member of the mandolin family; although derived from the Greek bouzouki, it is constructed like a flat backed mandolin and uses fifth-based tunings (most often GDAD, an octave below the mandolin, sometimes GDAE, ADAD or ADAE) in place of the guitar-like fourths-and-third tunings of the three- and four-course Greek bouzouki. Although the bouzouki’s bass course pairs are most often tuned in unison, on some instruments one of each pair is replaced with a lighter string and tuned in octaves, in the fashion of the 12-string guitar. Although occupying the same range as the octave mandolin/octave mandola, the Irish bouzouki is distinguished from the former instrument by its longer scale length, typically from 22 inches (560 mm) to 24 inches (610 mm), although scales as long as 26 inches (660 mm), which is the usual Greek bouzouki scale, are not unknown.
- The modern cittern is also an extension of the mandolin family, being typically a five course (ten string) instrument having a scale length between 20 inches (500 mm) and 22 inches (560 mm). It is most often tuned to either DGDAD or GDADA, and is essentially an octave mandola with a fifth course at either the top or the bottom of its range. Some luthiers, such as Stefan Sobell also refer to the octave mandola or a shorter-scaled Irish bouzouki as a cittern, irrespective of whether it has four or five courses.
In Indian classical music and Indian light music, the mandolin, which bears little resemblance to the European mandolin, is likely to be tuned to E-B-E-B. As there is no concept of absolute pitch in Indian classical music, any convenient tuning maintaining these relative pitch intervals between the strings can be used. Another prevalent tuning with these intervals is C-G-C-G, which corresponds to Sa-Pa-Sa-Pa in the Indian carnatic classical music style. This tuning corresponds to the way violins are tuned for carnatic classical music.
Mandolin music: Mandolins have a long history and much early music was written for them. In the first half of the 20th century, they enjoyed a period of great popularity in Europe and the Americas as an easier approach to playing string music. Many professional and amateur mandolin groups and orchestras were formed to play light classical string repertory. Just as this practice was falling into disuse, the mandolin found a new niche in American country, old-time music, bluegrass and folk music. More recently, the Baroque and Classical mandolin repertory and styles have benefited from the raised awareness of and interest in Early music. Tremolo and fingerpicking methods are used while playing a mandolin.
Mandolins in The United States of America
The mandolin’s popularity in the United States was spurred by the success of a group of touring young European musicians known as the Spanish Students, or in Spanish, the Estudiantes Españoles. The group debuted in the U. S. on January 2, 1880 in New York City. Ironically, this ensemble did not play mandolins but rather Bandurrias, which are also small, double-strung instruments resembling the mandolin. The success of the Figaro Spanish Students spawned several groups who imitated their musical style and colorful costumes. In many cases, the players in these new musical ensembles were Italian-born Americans who had brought mandolins from their native land. Thus, the Spanish Student imitators did primarily play mandolins and helped to generate enormous public interest in an instrument that previously was relatively unknown in the United States.
Mandolins were a fad instrument from the turn of the century to the mid-twenties. Instruments were marketed by teacher-dealers, much as the title character in the popular musical The Music Man. Often these teacher-dealers would conduct mandolin orchestras: groups of 4-50 musicians who would play various mandolin family instruments together. The instrument was primarily used in an ensemble setting well into the 1930s, although the fad died out at the beginning of the 1930s; the famous Lloyd Loar Master Model from Gibson (1923) was designed to boost the flagging interest in mandolin ensembles, with little success. The true destiny of the “Loar” as the defining instrument of bluegrass music didn’t appear until Bill Monroe purchased F5 S/N 73987 in a Florida barbershop in 1943 and popularized it as his main instrument.
The mandolin orchestras never completely went away, however. In fact, along with all the other musical forms the mandolin is involved with, the mandolin ensemble (groups usually arranged like the string section of a modern symphony orchestra, with first mandolins, second mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos, mando-basses and guitars and sometimes supplemented by other instruments) continues to grow in popularity. Since the mid-nineties, several public-school mandolin-based guitar programs have blossomed around the country, including Fretworks Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra, the first of its kind. The national organization that represents these groups is the Classical Mandolin Society of America.
Single mandolins were first used in southern string band music in the 1930s, most notably by brother duets such as the sedate Blue Sky Boys (Bill Bolick and Earl Bolick) and the more hard-driving Monroe Brothers (Bill Monroe and Charlie Monroe). However, the mandolin’s modern popularity in country music can be directly traced to one man: Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. After the Monroe Brothers broke up in 1939, Bill Monroe formed his own group, after a brief time called the Blue Grass Boys, and completed the transition of mandolin styles from a “parlor” sound typical of brother duets to the modern “bluegrass” style. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1939 and its powerful clear-channel broadcast signal on WSM-AM spread his style throughout the South, directly inspiring many musicians to take up the mandolin. Monroe famously played Gibson F5 mandolin, signed and dated July 9, 1923, by Lloyd Loar, chief acoustic engineer at Gibson. The F5 has since become the most imitated tonally and aesthetically by modern builders. Monroe’s style involved playing lead melodies in the style of a fiddler, and also a percussive chording sound referred to as “the chop” for the sound that is made by the quickly struck and muted strings. He also perfected a sparse, percussive blues style, especially up the neck in keys that had not been used much in country music, notably B and E. He emphasized a powerful, syncopated right hand at the expense of left-hand virtuosity. Monroe’s most influential follower of the second generation is Frank Wakefield and nowadays Mike Compton of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and David Long, who often tour as a duet.
The other major original bluegrass stylists, both emerging in the early 1950s and active still, are generally acknowledged to be Jesse McReynolds (of Jim and Jesse) who invented a syncopated banjo-roll style of crosspicking and Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers, who is a master of clarity and sparkling single-note runs. Highly-respected and influential modern bluegrass players include Herschel Sizemore and Doyle Lawson and the multi-genre Sam Bush who is equally at home with old-time fiddle tunes, rock, reggae and jazz. Ronnie McCoury of the Del McCoury Band has won numerous awards for his Monroe-influenced playing. The late John Duffey of the original Country Gentlemen and later the Seldom Scene did much to popularize the bluegrass mandolin among folk and urban audiences, especially on the east coast and in the Washington, DC area.
Jethro Burns, best known as half of the comedy duo Homer and Jethro, was also the first important jazz mandolinist. Tiny Moore popularized the mandolin in Western swing music. He initially played an 8-string Gibson but switched after 1952 to a 5-string solidbody electric instrument built by Paul Bigsby. Modern virtuosos David Grisman, Sam Bush and Mike Marshall, among others, have worked since the early 1970s to demonstrate the mandolin’s versatility for all styles of music. Chris Thile of California is the best-known of the younger generation of players; the band Nickel Creek features his virtuoso playing in its blend of traditional and pop styles.
Some rock musicians use mandolins, typically single-stringed electric models rather than double-stringed acoustic mandolins. One example is Tim Brennan of the Irish-American punk rock band Dropkick Murphys. In addition to electric guitar, bass, and drums, the band uses several instruments associated with traditional Celtic music, including mandolin, tin whistle, and Great Highland bagpipes. The band explains that these instruments accentuate the growling sound they favor. Levon Helm of The Band occasionally moved from his drum kit to play mandolin, most notably on ‘Evangeline’ and ‘Rockin’ Chair. The 1991 R.E.M. hit “Losing My Religion” also featured a simple mandolin lick played by guitarist Peter Buck, who also played the mandolin in nearly a dozen other songs. Rod Stewart’s still-played 1971 hit “Maggie May” features a significant mandolin riff in its motif. Every song on Mark Heard’s final album, 1992’s Satellite Sky, was written on a mandolin, Heard’s antique National Silvo electric mandolin was prominently featured on every track of the recording. Jack White of The White Stripes played mandolin for the film Cold Mountain, and plays mandolin on the song “Little Ghost” on the White Stripes album Get Behind Me Satan. David Immerglück of the Counting Crows, Monks of Doom and Glider is also known to feature the mandolin in many of his recordings, especially those with the Counting Crows. Rock superstar Tommy Shaw of STYX has used the mandolin in the their international hit “Boat on the River” (1979) and on the Shaw/Blades album Influence in the song “Dance with Me”. The Country band Sugarland’s own Kristian Bush has been known to play the mandolin from time to time. Pop rock band Green Day has used a mandolin in several occasions, especially on their 2000 album, Warning:. Boyd Tinsley, violin player of the Dave Matthews Band has been using an electric mandolin since 2005.
Very rarely mandolins are played with bottlenecks or slides. Sam Bush plays with a slide, mostly on a four string mandolin, Ken Burnett, a northern California mandolin player, uses slide playing frequently while playing with rock/folk bands 2Me and Amee Chapman and the Big Finish.
Mandolins in The United Kingdom
The mandolin has been used extensively in the traditional music of England and Scotland for generations and has recently featured in the playing of Matthew Bellamy in the rock band Muse, and was introduced very clearly by Vivian Stanshall on Mike Oldfield’s album “Tubular Bells”. It was used extensively by the British folk-rock band Lindisfarne, who featured two members on the instrument, Ray Jackson and Simon Cowe, and whose “Fog on the Tyne” was the biggest selling UK album of 1971-1972. “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart, which hit No. 1 on both the British charts and the Billboard Hot 100, also featured Jackson’s playing. It has also been used by other British rock musicians, including Led Zeppelin, whose bassist John Paul Jones is an accomplished mandolin player and has recorded numerous songs on mandolin including “Going to Calfornia” and “That’s the Way”; the mandolin part on “The Battle of Evermore” is played by Jimmy Page, who composed the song. Another Led Zeppelin song featuring mandolin is “Hey Hey What Can I Do.” Pete Townshend of The Who played mandolin on the track “Mike Post Theme”. McGuinness Flint, for whom Benny Gallagher played the mandolin on their most successful single, “When I’m Dead And Gone”, is another example. Gallagher was also briefly a member of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, and played mandolin on their hit “How Come”. The popular song “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths featured a mandolin solo played by Johnny Marr. More recently, the Glasgow-based band Sons and Daughters (band) have featured the mandolin, as played by Ailidh Lennon, on tracks such as “Fight,” “Start to End,” and “Medicine”. British folk-punk icons the Levellers also regularly use the mandolin in their songs. Current bands are also beginning to use the Mandolin and its unique sound – such as South London’s Indigo Moss who use it throughout their recordings and live gigs.
Mandolins in Ireland
The mandolin is becoming a somewhat more common instrument amongst Irish traditional musicians. Fiddle tunes are readily accessible to the mandolin player because of the equivalent range of the two instruments and the practically identical (allowing for the lack of frets on the fiddle) left hand fingerings.
Although almost any variety of acoustic mandolin might be adequate for Irish traditional music, virtually all Irish players prefer flat-backed instruments with oval sound holes to the Italian-style bowl-back mandolins or the carved-top mandolins with f-holes favored by bluegrass mandolinists. The former are often too soft-toned to hold their own in a session (as well as having a tendency to not stay in place on the player’s lap), whilst the latter tend to sound harsh and overbearing to the traditional ear. Greatly preferred are flat-topped “Irish-style” mandolins (reminiscent of the WWI-era Martin Army-Navy mandolin) and carved (arch) top mandolins with oval soundholes, such as the Gibson A-style of the 1920s. The mandolins built by British luthier Stefan Sobell are perhaps the most highly-prized for Irish traditional music, although many other makers, such as Ireland’s Joe Foley, also make well-regarded mandolins.
Noteworthy Irish mandolinists include Andy Irvine (who almost always tunes the E down to D), Mick Moloney, Paul Kelly, and Claudine Langille. John Sheahan and Barney McKenna, fiddle player and tenor banjo player respectively, with The Dubliners are also accomplished Irish mandolin players. The Dubliners ‘Live at the Gaiety’ DVD features an extensive mandolin duet of a three-tune ‘set’, two hornpipes and a reel. The instruments used are flat-backed, oval hole examples as described above: in this case made by UK luthier Fylde. The Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher often played the mandolin on stage, and he most famously used it in the song ‘Going to my hometown’.
Mandolins in Continental Europe
See also: Czech bluegrass
An increased interest in bluegrass music, especially in Central European countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, has inspired many new mandolin players and builders. These players often mix traditional folk elements with bluegrass.
Mandolins in Brazil
The mandolin (called “bandolim”) has a long and rich tradition in Brazilian folk music, especially in the style called choro. The composer and mandolin virtuoso Jacob do Bandolim did much to popularize the instrument through many recordings, and his influence continues to the present day. Some contemporary mandolin players in Brazil include Jacob’s disciple Deo Rian, and Hamilton de Holanda (the former, a traditional choro-style player, the latter an eclectic innovator).
The mandolin came into Brazil by way of Portugal. Portuguese music has a long tradition of mandolins and mandolin-like instruments (see, for example, the Portuguese guitar).
The mandolin is used almost exclusively as a melody instrument in Brazilian folk music – the role of chordal accompaniment being taken over by the cavaquinho and nylon-strung violão, or Spanish-style guitar. Its popularity, therefore, has risen and fallen with instrumental folk music styles, especially choro. The later part of the 20th century saw a renaissance of choro in Brazil, and with it, a revival of the country’s mandolinistic tradition.
Mandolins in Greece
The mandolin has a long tradition in the Ionian islands (the Eptanese) and Crete. It has long been played in the Aegean islands outside of the control of the Ottoman Empire. It is common to see choirs accompanied by mandolin players (mantolinates) in Ionian islands and especially in the cities of Corfu, Zakynthos (also known as Zante) and Kefalonia. The development of songs for mandolin (kantades) developed during the Venetian rule over Ionia.
On the island of Crete, along with the lyra and the laouto, the mandolin is one of the main instruments used in Cretan Music. It appeared on Crete around the time of the Venetian rule of the island. Different variants of the mandolin, such as the mantola, were used to accompany the lyra, the violin, and the laouto. Stelios Foustalierakis reported that the mandolin and the mpougari were used to accompany the lyra in the beginning of the 20th century in the city of Rethimno. There are also reports that the mandolin was mostly a woman’s musical instrument. Nowadays it is played mainly as a solo instrument in personal and family events on the Ionian islands and Crete.
Mandolins in India
Adoption of the mandolin in Carnatic music is recent and, being essentially a very small electric guitar, the instrument itself bears rather small resemblance to European and American mandolins. U. Srinivas has, over the last couple of decades, made his version of the mandolin very popular in India and abroad. Many adaptations of the instrument have been done to cater to the special needs of Indian Carnatic music.
This type of mandolin is also used in Bhangra, dance music popular in Punjabi culture.
Renowned modern mandolinists include Chris Thile, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Marcus Linton, David ‘Dawg’ Grisman, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, Yank Rachell, and Tim Ware – all of whom revolutionized the use of the instrument through the incorporation of various styles such as rap, techno, classical, rock and jazz. U. Srinivas (popularly known as mandolin Srinivas) was a child prodigy who plays Indian Classical Music on the mandolin, Patrick Vaillant (head of the “mandolin liberation front” and founder of the Melonious Quartet). Famous electric mandolin players include Canadian Nash the Slash
Classical mandolinists of the past include: Samuel Adelstein, Samuel Siegel, Valentine Abt, Giuseppe Pettine, Aubrey Stauffer, and William Place, Jr. of the United States; Raffaele Calace; Silvio Ranieri; Laurent Fantauzzi, Carlo Munier of Italy and Hugo D’Alton of the UK.
Popular musicians who play mandolin
- Mafro of Los Salvadores
- Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band
- Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
- Billie-Joe Armstrong of Green Day (During The Album “Warning”)
- Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band
- Martin Barre of Jethro Tull
- Tim Brennan of Dropkick Murphys
- Kristian Bush of Sugarland
- David Bowie
- Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn
- Peter Buck of R.E.M.
- Kristian Busch of Sugarland
- Sam Bush
- Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
- Joss Clapp of Winterville
- Lol Creme of 10cc
- Steve Earle
- Don Felder of The Eagles
- Simon Friend of the Levellers
- Ryan Foltz of Dropkick Murphys
- Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead
- David Gilmour of Pink Floyd used one on live versions of “Outside the Wall” with Pink Floyd in 1980 and 1981.
- Graham Gouldman of 10cc
- Ty Greenstein of Girlyman
- Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies
- Levon Helm of The Band
- David Immerglück of the Counting Crows, Monks of Doom, and Glider
- John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin
- Nick Krill of The Spinto Band
- Michael Kang of The String Cheese Incident
- Edward Larrikin
- Marit Larsen
- Alex Lifeson of Rush
- Bernie Leadon formerly of The Eagles
- Martie Maguire of The Dixie Chicks
- Daron Malakian of System of a Down
- Mike Marshall
- Paul McCartney
- Doris Muramatsu of Girlyman
- George Harrison
- Ronnie McCoury of The Del McCoury Band
- Colin Meloy of The Decemberists
- Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes
- Simon Moss of Indigo Moss
- Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies
- Robert Schmidt of Flogging Molly
- Jon Schneck of Relient K
- José Carlos Severino of Mediterrânic Ensemble
- Tommy Shaw of Styx
- Gilberto Silva
- Ricky Skaggs
- U. Srinivas of Shakti
- Sufjan Stevens
- Marty Stuart
- Fred Tackett of Little Feat
- Chris Thile
- Stefan Weinerhall of Falconer
- Jack White – The White Stripes
- B. J. Wilson of Procol Harum
- Nancy Wilson of Heart
- Patrick Wolf
- Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne (Used mandolin on “Pride and Glory”)
- Steve Van Zandt “Little Steven” of The E Street Band
- Win Butler of Arcade Fire
- Radim Zenkl
- Leonard Wyeth of Moving Target
- Brian Wolfe of Ebin-Rose
Collings Guitars also make some of the finest new mandolins available today. Their introduction of a varnish vanish on their mandolins has taken the quality and sound to another level. The execution of detail in both the Collings Model F and A mandolin are second to none.
Excerpted from Wikipedia, (8/24/07)
The ukulele is commonly associated with music from Hawaii, where the name roughly translates as “jumping flea”, and was developed there in the 1880s as a combination of the Madeiran braguinha and rajao A braguinha is an instrument similar to a cavaquinho, built in the city of Braga and named after it; the Portuguese cavaquinho is usually tuned in D-G-B-D, a G-major chord. The Madeira rajão is tuned D-G-C-E-A. The D and G strings are both re-entrant, i.e., tuned an octave higher than expected in the normal low-to-high course of strings. The GCEA strings of the rajão are the source of the re-entrant tuning of the modern ukulele.
Some of the most valuable ukuleles, which may run into the thousands of dollars in price, are made from kola (Acacia kola), a local wood known for its fine tone and attractive color and figure.
The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama Pacific International Exposition, held for most of 1915 in San Francisco, at which the Hawaiian Pavilion featured a guitar and ukulele ensemble, George E. K. Awai and his Royal Hawaiian Quartette, along with ukulele maker and player Jonah Kumalae. The popularity of the ensemble with visitors launched a fad for Hawaiian-themed songs among Tin Pan Alley songwriters. The ensemble also introduced both the lap steel guitar and the ukulele into U.S. mainland popular music, where it was taken up by vaudeville performers such as Roy Smeck and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards. The ukulele became an icon of the Jazz Age as this highly portable and relatively inexpensive instrument also proved popular with amateur players throughout the 1920s, as is evidenced by the introduction of uke chord tablature into the published sheet music for popular songs of the time (a role that would eventually be supplanted by the guitar). A number of mainland-based instrument manufacturers, among them Regal, Harmony, and Martin, added ukulele, banjolele, and tiple lines to their production to take advantage of the demand.
It can range in many different colors from white to blue and material from plastic to wood.
Types of ukulele
The ukulele comes in four sizes, from smallest to largest:
- soprano or standard (the original size)
- Scale* length – 13″ (33cm)
- Total length – 21″ (53cm)
- 15″ (38cm)
- 23″ (58cm)
- tenor (created in the 1920s)
- 17″ (43m)
- 26″ (66cm)
- baritone (created in the late 1940s)
- 19″ (48cm)
- 30″ (76cm)
* (The “Scale” is the length of the playable part of the strings, from the nut at the top to the bridge at the bottom.)
Ukuleles are also often seen in non-standard shapes, such as an oval, usually called a “pineapple” ukulele, or a boat-paddle shape, made popular by the Fluke brand of ukulele, and occasionally a square shape, often made out of an old wooden cigar box.
Musicians and entertainers, both past and present, particularly known for playing the ukulele include:
- Aldrine Guerrero
- Andy Roberts
- Anne Murra
- Arthur Godfrey
- “King” Benny Nawahi
- Billy ‘Uke’ Scott
- Bob Brozman
- Bruce Forsyth*
- Buster Keaton
- Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”)
- Carmaig de Forest
- Dan Zanes
- Davide Tanner (llama)
- Darren Hayman
- Del Rey
- Dick Van Dyke
- Don Ho
- Eddie Florano
- Ed’s Redeeming Qualities
- Eddie Kamae
- Eddie Vedder
- Elton Hayes
- Erin Ross
- Ernest Kaai
- Forrest Kline
- Frank Crumit
- Gabby La La
- George Formby (played banjolele & Hawaiian ukulele)
- George Harrison
- Gerald Ross
- Hayseed Dixie
- Imua Garza
- Island Ukes
- Israel Kamakawiwoole
- Jack Johnson
- Jake Shimabukuro
- James Hill
- Jens Lekman
- Joe Brown
- John Lennon
- John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin
- Jolie Holland
- Julien Doré
- Troy Fernandez
- Krista L.L. Nuir
- Langley Ukulele Ensemble
- Lucille Ball
- Lyle Ritz
- Mang Udel
- Nathan Sambell
- Neil Finn
- New York Ukulele Ensemble
- Pacifica Ukes
- Patrick Wolf
- Paul McCartney
- Penguin Cafe Orchestra
- Peter Hobbs
- Peter Sellers
- Petty Booka
- Richie Sambora
- Roy Smeck
- Sean Egan
- SpongeBob SquarePants
- Stefan Raab
- Stephin Merritt
- Steve Martin
- Ukes of Hazzard
- The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
- Tiny Tim
- Todd Olson
- uke til u pukeWayne Federman
- Zach Condon
- Zach Gill
- Zooey Deschanel
- Peter Sutcliffe
- Leonard Wyeth
- Brian Wolfe
Beatle George Harrison was a lifelong fan of the ukulele. He was reported to have always traveled with two ukuleles so that he could play with someone, including producer and musician Jeff Lynne and fellow former Beatle Paul McCartney. George’s close friend and musician Joe Brown performed “I’ll See You in my Dreams” on the ukulele at the end of the Concert For George. Paul McCartney also opened up one of George’s songs “Something” on a left-handed ukuleles, saying George showed him it while they were playing the ukuleles after dinner at Paul’s house.
Brian Wilson used Lyle Ritz’s ukulele skills on his Pet Sounds LP, particularly on the song “Caroline No.”
Eric Clapton plays the ukulele on the Bonzo Dog Band’s “The Intro and the Outro”.
Although not as widely-known, Keith Green was playing the ukulele when he was three years of age.
Violinist Sara Watkins, a member of Nickel Creek, is a ukulele player. She only plays it occasionally; one such example is the song “Anthony”.
Multi-instrumentalist and producer Jon Brion sometimes performs a version of Phil Lynott’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” live solo on a ukulele.
Brian May of Queen plays a ukulele in the song “Bring Back Leroy Brown” from Sheer Heart Attack and on “Good Company” from A Night at the Opera. While still a teenager, May learned to play the ukulele-banjo, and from the chords he learned, he taught himself the guitar.
In the 1920’s, the phrase Play that on your ukulele meant the same as Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Zach Condon of Beirut (band) plays the ukulele as his main instrument, having been unable to play guitar due to a wrist injury that prevented his hand from reaching fully around the neck of a guitar
Pearl Jam recorded a song called Soon Forget done entirely by Eddie Vedder with only a ukelele and his voice.
Excerpted from Wikipedia 10/8/07
The Martin Tiple
The American Tiple was redesigned by the famous American guitar company C.F. Martin & Co. for the William J. Smith Co. in New York. This Tiple has 10 Strings. The two outer string courses are doubled; the top course has unisons, and the bottom course contains an octave higher double; the two courses in the middle are tripled, with the octave lower principle in the middle and the octave higher strings on either side of the triple courses. It was first created in 1922 and is tuned high like an ukulele. They have been made ever since, however today they would need to be special ordered.
The tiple string tunings are a fifth above the corresponding guitar string (like a ukulele). When playing with a guitar in standard tuning, you can read the guitar chords and play the standard ukulele chord patterns. If you do not want to learn the ukulele patterns, transpose the guitar chords up a fourth and use standard guitar patterns on the tiple (i.e., the guitar plays C major, the tiple plays F major).
Musicians and entertainers, both past and present, particularly known for playing the tiple include
- Ed Askew
- Brian Wolfe
- Ry Cooder
- David Lindley
Excerpted from Wikipedia, (10/8/07)
Guitar – A Brief History
The guitar is a musical instrument with ancient roots that is used in a wide variety of musical styles. It typically has six strings, but four, seven, eight, ten, and twelve string guitars also exist. Guitars are recognized as one of the primary instruments in blues, country, flamenco, rock music, and many forms of pop. There is also a solo classical instrument. Guitars may be played acoustically, where the tone is produced by vibration of the strings and modulated by the hollow body, or they may rely on an amplifier that can electronically manipulate tone. Such electric guitars were introduced in the 20th century and continue to have a profound influence on popular culture. Traditionally guitars have usually been constructed of combinations of various woods and strung with animal gut, or more recently, with either nylon or steel strings. Guitars are made and repaired by luthiers.
Before the development of the electric guitar and the use of synthetic materials, a guitar was defined as being an instrument having “a long, fretted neck, flat wooden soundboard, ribs, and a flat back, most often with incurved sides”. Instruments similar to the guitar have been popular for at least 5,000 years. The six string classical guitar first appeared in Spain but was itself the product of a long and complex history of diverse influences. Like virtually all other stringed European instruments, the guitar ultimately traces back thousands of years, via the Middle East, to a common ancient origin from instruments then known in central Asia and India. It is therefore very distantly related with contempory instruments such as the Iranian tanbur and setar and the Indian sitar. Figurines playing tanburs have been excavated in Susa, Elam (now Iran) dated 2000-1500 B.C. and kept at the National Museum of Iran. The oldest known iconographic representation of an instrument displaying all the essential features of a guitar being played is a 3300 year old stone carving of a Hittite bard. The modern word, guitar, was adopted into English from Spanish ‘guitarra’, derived from the Latin word ‘cithara’, which in turn was derived from the earlier Greek word ‘kithara’, which perhaps derives from Persian ‘sihtar’. ‘Sihtar’ itself is related to the Indian instrument, the sitar.
The modern guitar is descended from the Roman cithara brought by the Romans to Hispania around 40 AD, and further adapted and developed with the arrival of the four-string oud, brought by the Moors after their conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century. Elsewhere in Europe, the indigenous six-string Scandinavian lut (lute), had gained in popularity in areas of Viking incursions across the continent. Often depicted in carvings c. 800 AD, the Norse hero Gunther (also known as Gunnar), played a lute with his toes as he lay dying in a snake-pit, in the legend of Siegfried. By 1200 AD, the four string “guitar” had evolved into two types: the guitarra morisca (Moorish guitar) which had a rounded back, wide fingerboard and several soundholes, and the guitarra latina (Latin guitar) which resembled the modern guitar with one soundhole and a narrower neck.
The Spanish vihuela or “viola da mano”, a guitar-like instrument of the 15th and 16th centuries is, due to its many similarities, usually considered the immediate ancestor of the modern guitar. It had lute-style tuning and a guitar-like body. Its construction had as much in common with the modern guitar as with its contemporary four-course renaissance guitar. The vihuela enjoyed only a short period of popularity as it was superseded by the guitar; the last surviving publication of music for the instrument appeared in 1576. It is not clear whether it represented a transitional form or was simply a design that combined features of the Arabic oud and the European lute. In favor of the latter view, the reshaping of the vihuela into a guitar-like form can be seen as a strategy of differentiating the European lute visually from the Moorish oud.
The Vinaccia family of luthiers is known for developing the mandolin, and may have built the oldest surviving six string guitar. Gaetano Vinaccia (1759 – after 1831) has his signature on the label of a guitar built in Naples, Italy for six strings with the date of 1779. This guitar has been examined and does not show tell-tale signs of modifications from a double-course guitar although fakes are known to exist of guitars and identifying labels from that period.
Modern dimensions of the classical instrument were established by Antonio Torres Jurado (1817-1892), working in Seville in the 1850s. Torres and Louis Panormo of London (active 1820s-1840s) were both responsible for demonstrating the superiority of fan strutting over transverse table bracing.
The electric guitar was patented by George Beauchamp in 1936. Beauchamp co-founded Rickenbacher (with Adolf Rickenbacher) which used the horseshoe-magnet pickup The spelling of the company name later changed to “Rickenbacker’. It was Danelectro, however, that first manufactured electric guitars for the wider public distribution.
Edited and expand from Wikipedia 6/08
Types of Guitars
- Acoustic Guitars
- Renaissance and Baroque Guitars
- Classical Guitars
- The Modern Ten-string Guitar
- Portuguese Guitar
- Flat-Top Steel-String Guitars
- Archtop Guitars
- Resophonic, Resonator or Dobro Guitars
- 12 string Guitars
- Russian Guitars
- Acoustic Bass Guitars
- Tenor Guitars
- Harp Guitars
- Extended-Range Guitars
- Guitar Battente
- Electric Guitars
An acoustic guitar uses a soundboard for sound production without the need for additional amplification. A soundboard is a wooden plate mounted on the front of the guitar’s body. The acoustic guitar is generally quieter than other wind or band instruments so when used ensemble, it is often amplified. Many acoustic guitars today feature a variety of electronic pickups making it popssible to amplify and modify the raw guitar sound.
There are several notable subcategories within the acoustic guitar group: classical and flamenco guitars; steel string guitars, which include the flat top or “folk” guitar; twelve string guitars and the arch top guitar. The acoustic guitar group also includes unamplified guitars designed to play in different registers such as the acoustic bass guitar which has a similar tuning to that of the electric bass guitar.
Renaissance and Baroque Guitars
These are the gracile ancestors of the modern classical guitar. They are substantially smaller and more delicate than the classical guitar, and generate a much quieter sound. The strings are paired in courses as in a modern 12 string guitar, but they only have four or five courses of strings rather than six. They were more often used as rhythm instruments in ensembles than as solo instruments, and can often be seen in that role in early music performances. (Gaspar Sanz’ Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española of 1674 constitutes the majority of the surviving solo corpus for the era.) Renaissance and Baroque guitars are easily distinguished because the Renaissance guitar is very plain and the Baroque guitar is very ornate, with inlays all over the neck and body, and a paper-cutout inverted “wedding cake” inside the hole.
These are typically strung with nylon strings, played in a seated position and are used to play a diversity of musical styles including classical music. The classical guitar is designed to allow for the execution of solo polyphonic arrangements of music in much the same manner as the pianoforte can. This is the major point of difference in design intent between the classical instrument and other designs of guitar. Flamenco guitars are very similar in construction, but are associated with a more percussive tone. In Mexico, the popular mariachi band includes a range of guitars, from the tiny requinto to the guitarron, a guitar larger than a cello, which is tuned in the bass register. In Colombia, the traditional quartet includes a range of instruments too, from the small bandola (sometimes known as the Deleuze-Guattari, for use when traveling or in confined rooms or spaces), to the slightly larger tiple, to the full sized classical guitar. The requinto also appears in other Latin-American countries as a complementary member of the guitar family, with its smaller size and scale, permitting more projection for the playing of single-lined melodies. Modern dimensions of the classical instrument were established by Antonio Torres Jurado (1817-1892). Classical guitars are sometimes referred to as classic guitars. In recent years, the series of guitars used by the Niibori Guitar orchestra have gained some currency, namely:
Sopranino guitar (an octave and a fifth higher than normal); sometimes known as the piccolo guitar
Soprano guitar (an octave higher than normal)
Alto guitar (a 5th higher than normal)
Prime (ordinary classical) guitar
Niibori bass guitar (a 4th lower than normal); Niibori simply calls this the “bass guitar”, but this assigns a different meaning to the term than other parts of the community use, as his is only a 4th lower, and has 6 strings
Contrabass guitar (an octave lower than normal)
The Modern Ten-string Guitar
The Modern/Yepes 10-string guitar (a classical guitar) adds four strings (resonators) tuned in such a way that they (along with the other three bass strings) can resonate in unison with any of the 12 chromatic notes that can occur on the higher strings; the idea behind this being an attempt at enhancing and balancing sonority.
Main article: Ten-string guitar
The Portuguese guitar is a 12 string guitar used in Portugal for the traditional Fado song. Its true origins are somewhat uncertain but there is a general agreement that it goes back to the medieval period. It is often mistakenly thought to be based on the so-called “English guitar” – a common error as there is no such thing. For some time the best instruments of this and other types were made in England, hence the confusion. “English guitar” refers to a quality standard, not really an instrument type. This particular instrument is most likely a merge of medieval “cistre” or “citar” and the Arabic lute.
Flat-Top Steel-String Guitars
Similar to the classical guitar, however, within the varied sizes of the steel-stringed guitar the body size is usually significantly larger than a classical guitar and it has a narrower, reinforced neck and stronger structural design. This allows the instrument to withstand the additional tension of steel strings. The steel strings produce a brighter tone, and according to many players, a louder sound. The acoustic guitar is used in many kinds of music including folk, country, bluegrass,pop, jazz and blues.
These are steel string instruments which feature a violin-inspired f-hole design in which the top (and often the back) of the instrument are carved in a curved rather than a flat shape. Lloyd Loar of the Gibson Guitar Corporation invented this variation of guitar after designing a style of mandolin of the same type. The typical Archtop is a deep, hollow body guitar whose form is much like that of a mandolin or violin family instrument and may be acoustic or electric. Some solid body electric guitars are also considered archtop guitars although usually ‘Archtop guitar’ refers to the hollow body form. Archtop guitars were immediately adopted upon their release by both jazz and country musicians and have remained particularly popular in jazz music, usually with flatwound strings. The electric semi-hollow body archtop guitar has a distinct sound among electric guitars and is consequently appropriate for many styles of pop music. Many electric archtop guitars intended for use in rock and roll have a Tremolo Arm.
Resonator, Resophonic or Dobro Guitars
Similar to the flat top guitar in appearance, the sound of the resonator guitar is produced by a metal resonator mounted in the middle of the top. The physical principle of the guitar is therefore similar to the banjo. The original purpose of the resonator was to amplify the sound of the guitar. This purpose has been largely superseded by electrical amplification, but the resonator guitar is still played because of its distinctive sound. Resonator guitars may have either one resonator cone or three resonator cones. Three-cone resonators have two cones on the left above one another and one cone immediately to the right. The method of transmitting sound resonance to the cone is either a “biscuit” bridge, made of a small piece of hardwood, or a “spider” bridge, made of metal and larger in size. Three-cone resonators always use a specialized metal spider bridge.The type of resonator guitar with a neck with a square cross-section — called “square neck” — is usually played face up, on the lap of the seated player, and often with a metal or glass slide. The round neck resonator guitars are normally played in the same fashion as other guitars, although slides are also often used, especially in blues.
12 string Guitars
The twelve string guitar usually has steel strings and is widely used in folk music, blues and rock and roll. Rather than having only six strings, the 12-string guitar has six courses made up of two strings each, like a mandolin or lute. The highest two courses are tuned in unison, while the others are tuned in octaves. The 12-string guitar is also made in electric forms.
These are seven string acoustic guitars which were the norm for Russian guitarists throughout the 19th and well into the 20th centuries. The guitar is traditionally tuned to an open G major tuning.
Acoustic Bass Guitars
Have steel strings or gut strings and often the same tuning as an electric bass guitar.
There is very sketchy background information about tenor guitars on the Internet. A number of classical guitarists call the Niibori prime guitar a “Tenor Guitar” on the grounds that it sits in pitch between the alto and the bass. Elsewhere the name is taken for a 4-string guitar with a scale length of 23″ (585 mm) – about the same as a Terz Guitar. The tenor guitar is tuned in fifths, C G D A, as is the tenor banjo and the cello. It is generally accepted that the tenor guitar was created to allow a tenor banjo player to follow the fashion as it evolved from Dixieland Jazz towards the more progressive Jazz that featured guitar. It allows a tenor banjo player to provide a guitar-based rhythm section with little to learn. A small minority of players (such as Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio) close tuned the instrument to D G B E to produce a deep instrument that could be played with the 4-note chord shapes found on the top 4 strings of the guitar or ukulele. The deep pitch warrants the wide-spaced chords that the banjo tuning permits, and the close tuned tenor does not have the same full, clear sound.
Harp Guitars are difficult to classify as there are many variations within this type of guitar. They are typically rare and uncommon in the popular music scene. Most consist of a regular guitar, plus additional ‘harp’ strings strung above the six normal strings. The instrument is usually acoustic and the harp strings are usually tuned to lower notes than the guitar strings, for an added bass range. Normally there is neither fingerboard nor frets behind the harp strings. Some harp guitars also feature much higher pitch strings strung below the traditional guitar strings. The number of harp strings varies greatly, depending on the type of guitar and also the player’s personal preference (as they have often been made to the player’s specification). The Pikasso guitar; 4 necks, 2 sound holes, 42 strings and also the Oracle Harp Sympitar; 24 strings (with 12 sympathetic strings protruding through the neck) are modern examples.
For well over a century guitars featuring seven, eight, nine, ten or more strings have been used by a minority of guitarists as a means of increasing the range of pitch available to the player. Usually, it is bass strings that are added. Classical guitars with an extended range are useful for playing lute repertoire, some of which was written for lutes with more than six courses.
The battente is smaller than a classical guitar, usually played with four or five metal strings. It is mainly used in Calabria (a region in southern Italy) to accompany the voice.
Electric guitars can have solid, semi-hollow, or hollow bodies, and produce little sound without amplification. Electromagnetic pickups convert the vibration of the steel strings into electrical signals which are fed to an amplifier through a cable or radio transmitter. The sound is frequently modified by other electronic devices or the natural distortion of valves (vacuum tubes) in the amplifier. There are two main types of pickup, single and double coil (or humbucker), each of which can be passive or active. The electric guitar is used extensively in jazz, blues, and rock and roll, and was commercialized by Gibson in collaboration with Les Paul, and independently by Leo Fender of Fender Music. The lower fretboard action (the height of the strings from the fingerboard) and its electrical amplification lend the electric guitar to some techniques which are less frequently used on acoustic guitars. These include tapping, extensive use of legato through pull-offs and hammer-ons (also known as slurs), pinch harmonics, volume swells, and use of a tremolo arm or effects pedals.
Seven-strings were popularized in the 1980s and 1990s in part due to the release of the Ibanez Universe guitar, endorsed by Steve Vai. Other artists go a step further, by using an 8 string guitar with two extra low strings. Although the most common 7-string has a low B string, Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds and Rickenbacker) uses an octave G string paired with the regular G string as on a 12 string guitar, allowing him to incorporate chiming 12 string elements in standard 6 string playing.
The electric bass guitar is similar in tuning to the traditional double bass viol. Hybrids of acoustic and electric guitars are also common. There are also more exotic varieties, such as guitars with two, three, or rarely four necks, all manner of alternate string arrangements, fretless fingerboards (used almost exclusively on bass guitars, meant to emulate the sound of a stand-up bass), 5.1 surround guitar, and such. Some electric guitar and electric bass guitar models feature Piezoelectric pickups, which function as transducers to provide a sound closer to that of an acoustic guitar with the flip of a switch or knob, rather than switching guitars.
Guitar Construction and Components Glossary
- Machine heads (or pegheads, tuning keys, tuning machines, tuners)
- Truss rod
- Heel (acoustic) – Neckjoint (electric)
- Body – Acoustic
- Body – Electric
- Bridge and Saddle
- Fretboard (or Fingerboard)
- Lining, Binding, Purfling
- Vibrato Arm
Guitars can be constructed to meet the demands of both left and right-handed players. Traditionally the dominant hand is assigned the task of plucking or strumming the strings. For the majority of people this entails using the right hand. This is because musical expression (dynamics, tonal expression and colour etc) is largely determined by the plucking hand, whilst the fretting hand is assigned the lesser mechanical task of depressing and gripping the strings. This is similar to the convention of the violin family of instruments where the right hand controls the bow. A minority, however, believe that left-handed people should learn to play guitars strung in the manner used by right-handed people, simply to standardise the instrument.
The headstock is located at the end of the guitar neck furthest from the body. It is fitted with machine heads that adjust the tension of the strings, which in turn affects the pitch. Traditional tuner layout is “3+3” in which each side of the headstock has three tuners (such as on Gibson Les Pauls). In this layout, the headstocks are commonly symmetrical. Many guitars feature other layouts as well, including six-in-line (featured on Fender Stratocasters) tuners or even “4+2” (Ernie Ball Music Man). However, some guitars (such as Steinbergers) do not have headstocks at all, in which case the tuning machines are located elsewhere, either on the body or the bridge.
The nut is a small strip of bone, plastic, brass, corian, graphite, stainless steel, or other medium-hard material, at the joint where the headstock meets the fretboard. Its grooves guide the strings onto the fretboard, giving consistent lateral string placement. It is one of the endpoints of the strings’ vibrating length. It must be accurately cut, or it can contribute to tuning problems due to string slippage, and/or string buzz.
Also know as tuning heads – these are geared mechanisms to tighten or loosen the string tension and thereby affect the pitch of each individual string – the way to tune the instrument. On some classical and flamenco guitars the tuning pegs are friction fit like violins.
Also called the fingerboard, the fretboard is a piece of wood embedded with metal frets that comprises the top of the neck. It is flat on classical guitars and slightly curved crosswise on acoustic and electric guitars. The curvature of the fretboard is measured by the fretboard radius, which is the radius of a hypothetical circle of which the fretboard’s surface constitutes a segment. The smaller the fretboard radius, the more noticeably curved the fretboard is. Most modern guitars feature a 12″ neck radius, while older guitars from the ’60’s and ’70’s usually feature a 6″ – 8″ neck radius. Pinching a string against the fretboard effectively shortens the vibrating length of the string, producing a higher pitch. Fretboards are most commonly made of rosewood, ebony, maple, and sometimes manufactured or composite materials such as HPL or resin. See below on section ‘Neck” for the importance of the length of the fretboard in connection to other dimensions of the guitar.
Frets are metal strips (usually nickel alloy or stainless steel) embedded along the fretboard and located at exact points that divide the scale length in accordance with a specific mathematical formula. Pressing a string against a fret determines the strings’ vibrating length and therefore its resultant pitch. The pitch of each consecutive fret is defined at a half-step interval on the chromatic scale. Standard classical guitars have 19 frets and electric guitars between 21 to 24 frets.
Frets are laid out to a mathematical ratio that results in equal tempered division of the octave. The ratio of the spacing of two consecutive frets is the twelfth root of two , whose numeric value is about 1.059463. The twelfth fret divides the scale length in two exact halves and the 24th fret position divides the scale length in half yet again. Every twelve frets represents one octave. In practice, luthiers determine fret positions using the constant 17.817, which is derived from the twelfth root of two. The scale length divided by this value yields the distance from the nut to the first fret. That distance is subtracted from the scale length and the result is divided in two sections by the constant to yield the distance from the first fret to the second fret. Positions for the remainder of the frets are calculated in like manner.
There are several different fret gauges, which can be fitted according to player preference. Among these are “jumbo” frets, which have much thicker gauge, allowing for use of a slight vibrato technique from pushing the string down harder and softer. “Scalloped” fretboards, where the wood of the fretboard itself is “scooped out” between the frets allows a dramatic vibrato effect. Fine frets, much flatter, allow a very low string-action but require other conditions such as curvature of the neck to be well maintained in order to prevent buzz. Frets worn down from heavy use can be replaced or, to a certain extent, re-shaped as required.
The truss rod is a metal rod that runs along the inside of the neck. It is used to correct changes to the neck’s curvature caused by the neck timbers aging, changes in humidity or to compensate for changes in the tension of strings. The tension of the rod and neck assembly is adjusted by a hex nut or an allen-key bolt on the rod, usually located either at the headstock, sometimes under a cover, or just inside the body of the guitar underneath the fretboard and accessible through the sound hole. Some truss rods can only be accessed by removing the neck. The truss rod counteracts the immense amount of tension the strings place on the neck, bringing the neck back to a straighter position. Turning the truss rod clockwise will tighten it, counteracting the tension of the strings and straightening the neck or creating a backward bow. Turning the truss rod counter-clockwise will loosen it, allowing string tension to act on the neck and creating a forward bow. Adjusting the truss rod affects the intonation of a guitar as well as the height of the strings from the fingerboard, called the action. Some truss rod systems, called “double action” truss systems, tighten both ways, allowing the neck to be pushed both forward and backward (standard truss rods can only be released to a point beyond which the neck will no longer be compressed and pulled backward). Classical guitars do not require truss rods as their nylon strings exert a lower tensile force with lesser potential to cause structural problems.
Inlays are visual elements set into the exterior surface of a guitar. The typical locations for inlay are on the fretboard, headstock, and on acoustic guitars around the soundhole, known as the rosette. Inlays range from simple plastic dots on the fretboard to intricate works of art covering the entire exterior surface of a guitar (front and back). Some guitar players have used LEDs in the fretboard to produce a unique lighting effects onstage.
Fretboard inlays are most commonly shaped like dots, diamond shapes, parallelograms, or large blocks in between the frets. Dots are usually inlaid into the upper edge of the fretboard in the same positions, small enough to be visible only to the player. Some older or high-end instruments have inlays made of mother of pearl, abalone, ivory, coloured wood or other exotic materials and designs. Simpler inlays are often made of plastic or painted. High-end classical guitars seldom have fretboard inlays as a well trained player is expected to know his or her way around the instrument.
In addition to fretboard inlay, the headstock and soundhole surround are also frequently inlaid. The manufacturer’s logo or a small design is often inlaid into the headstock. Rosette designs vary from simple concentric circles to delicate fretwork mimicking the historic rosette of lutes. Bindings that edge the finger and sound boards are sometimes inlaid. Some instruments have a filler strip running down the length and behind the neck, used for strength and/or to fill the cavity through which the trussrod was installed in the neck.
Elaborate inlays are a decorative feature of many limited edition, high-end and custom-made guitars. Guitar manufacturers often release such guitars to celebrate significant or historic milestones.
A guitar’s frets, fretboard, tuners, headstock, and truss rod, all attached to a long wooden extension, collectively constitute its neck. The wood used to make the fretboard will usually differ from the wood in the rest of the neck. The bending stress on the neck is considerable, particularly when heavier gauge strings are used (see Tuning), and the ability of the neck to resist bending (see Truss rod) is important to the guitar’s ability to hold a constant pitch during tuning or when strings are fretted. The rigidity of the neck with respect to the body of the guitar is one determinant of a good instrument versus a poor one. The shape of the neck can also vary, from a gentle “C” curve to a more pronounced “V” curve. There are many different types of neck profiles available, giving the guitarist many options. Some aspects to consider in a guitar neck may be the overall width of the fingerboard, scale (distance between the frets), the neck wood, the type of neck construction (for example, the neck may be glued in or bolted on), and the shape (profile) of the back of the neck. Other type of material used to make guitar necks are graphite (Steinberger guitars), aluminium (Kramer Guitars, Travis Bean and Veleno guitars), or carbon fiber (Modulus Guitars and ThreeGuitars).
Neck joint or ‘Heel’
This is the point at which the neck is either bolted or glued to the body of the guitar. Almost all acoustic guitars, with the primary exception of Taylors, have glued (otherwise known as set) necks, while electric guitars are constructed using both types.
Commonly used set neck joints include mortise and tenon joints (such as those used by CF Martin & Co. guitars), dovetail joints (also used by CF Martin on the D28 and similar models) and Spanish heel neck joints which are named after the shoe they resemble and commonly found in classical guitars. All three types offer stability. Bolt-on necks, though they are historically associated with cheaper instruments, do offer greater flexibility in the guitar’s set-up, and allow easier access for neck joint maintenance and repairs.
Another type of neck, only available for solid body electric guitars, is the neck-through-body construction. These are designed so that everything from the machine heads down to the bridge are located on the same piece of wood. The sides (also known as wings) of the guitar are then glued to this central piece. Some luthiers prefer this method of construction as they claim it allows better sustain of each note. Some instruments may not have a neck joint at all, having the neck and sides built as one piece and the body built around it.
Modern guitar strings are manufactured in either metal or organo-carbon material. Instruments utilising “steel” strings may have strings made of alloys incorporating steel, nickel or phosphor bronze. Classical and flamenco instruments have historically used gut strings but these have been superseded by nylon and carbon-fibre materials. Bass strings for both instruments are wound rather than monofilament.
Guitar strings are strung almost parallel to the neck, whose surface is covered by the fingerboard (fretboard). By depressing a string against the fingerboard, the effective length of the string can be changed, which in turn changes the frequency at which the string will vibrate when plucked. Guitarists typically use one hand to pluck the strings and the other to depress the strings against the fretboard.
The strings may be plucked using either the fingers or a pick (or plectrum).
Body (Acoustic Guitar)
In acoustic guitars, string vibration is transmitted through the bridge and saddle to the body via sound board. The sound board is typically made of tone woods such as spruce or cedar. Timbers for tone woods are chosen for both strength and ability to transfer mechanical energy from the strings to the air within the guitar body. Sound is further shaped by the characteristics of the guitar body’s resonant cavity.
In electric guitars, transducers known as pickups convert string vibration to an electric signal, which in turn is amplified and fed to speakers, which vibrate the air to produce the sound we hear. Nevertheless, the body of the electric guitar still performs a role in shaping the resultant tonal signature.
In an acoustic instrument, the body of the guitar is a major determinant of the overall sound quality. The guitar top, or soundboard, is a finely crafted and engineered element made of tonewoods such as spruce and red cedar. This thin piece of wood, often only 2 or 3mm thick, is strengthened by differing types of internal bracing. The top is considered by many luthiers to be the dominant factor in determining the sound quality. The majority of the instrument’s sound is heard through the vibration of the guitar top as the energy of the vibrating strings is transferred to it.
Body size, shape and style has changed over time. 19th century guitars, now known as salon guitars, were smaller than modern instruments. Differing patterns of internal bracing have been used over time by luthiers. Torres, Hauser, Ramirez, Fleta, and C.F. Martin were among the most influential designers of their time. Bracing not only strengthens the top against potential collapse due to the stress exerted by the tensioned strings, but also affects the resonance characteristics of the top. The back and sides are made out of a variety of timbers such as mahogany, Indian rosewood and highly regarded Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra). Each one is primarily chosen for their aesthetic effect and can be decorated with inlays and purfling.
The body of an acoustic guitar has a sound hole through which sound is projected. The sound hole is usually a round hole in the top of the guitar under the strings. Air inside the body vibrates as the guitar top and body is vibrated by the strings, and the response of the air cavity at different frequencies is characterised, like the rest of the guitar body, by a number of resonance modes at which it responds more strongly.
Instruments with larger areas for the guitar top were introduced by Martin in an attempt to create louder volume levels. The popularity of the larger “dreadnought” body size amongst acoustic performers is related to the greater sound volume produced.
Body (Electric Guitar)
Most electric guitar bodies are made of wood and include a plastic pick guard. Boards wide enough to use as a solid body are very expensive due to the worldwide depletion of hardwood stock since the 70’s, so the wood is rarely one solid piece. Most bodies are made of two pieces of wood with some of them including a seam running down the centre line of the body. The most common woods used for electric guitar body construction include maple, basswood, ash, poplar, alder, and mahogany. Many bodies will consist of good sounding but inexpensive woods, like ash, with a “top”, or thin layer of another, more attractive wood (such as maple with a natural “flame” pattern) glued to the top of the basic wood. Guitars constructed like this are often called “flame tops”. The body is usually carved or routed to accept the other elements, such as the bridge, pickup, neck, and other electronic components. Most electrics have a polyurethane or nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Other alternative materials to wood, are used in guitar body construction. Some of these include carbon composites, plastic material (such as polycarbonate) and aluminium alloys.
Pickups are transducers attached to a guitar that detect (or “pick up”) string vibrations and convert the mechanical energy of the string into electrical energy. The resultant electrical signal can then be electronically amplified. The most common type of pickup is electromagnetic in design. These contain magnets that are tightly wrapped in a coil, or coils, of copper wire. Such pickups are usually placed right underneath the guitar strings. Electromagnetic pickups work on the same principles and in a similar manner to an electrical generator. The vibration of the strings causes a small voltage to be created in the coils surrounding the magnets, this signal voltage is later amplified.
Traditional electromagnetic pickups are either single-coil or double-coil. Single coil pickups are susceptable to noise induced from electric fields, usually mains-frequency (60 or 50 hertz) hum. The introduction of the double-coil humbucker in the mid-50’s did away with this problem through the use of two coils, one of which is wired in a reverse polarity orientation.
The type and model of pickups used can greatly affect the tone of the guitar. Typically, humbuckers, which are two magnet/coil assemblies attached to each other are traditionally associated a heavier sound. Single coil pickups, one magnet wrapped in copper wire, are used by guitarists seeking a brighter, twangier sound with greater dynamic range.
Modern pickups are tailored to the sound desired. A commonly applied approximation used in selection of pickup is that less wire (lower dc resistance) = brighter sound, more wire = “fat” tone. Other options include specialized switching that produces coil-splitting, in/out of phase and other effects. Guitar circuits are either active, needing a battery to power their circuit, or, as in most cases, equipped with a passive circuit. Fender Stratocaster type guitars generally utilize 3 single coil pickups, while most Gibson Les Paul types use humbucker pickups.
Piezoelectric, or piezo, pickups represent another class of pickup. These employ piezoelectricity to generate the musical signal and are popular in hybrid electro-acoustic guitars. A crystal is located under each string, usually in the saddle. When the string vibrates, the shape of the crystal is distorted, and the stresses associated with this change produce tiny voltages across the crystal that can be amplified and manipulated. Some piezo equipped guitars use what is known as a hexaphonic pickup. “Hex” is a prefix meaning six. In a hexaphonic pickup separate outputs are obtained from discrete piezoelectric pickups for each of the six strings. This arrangement allows the signal to be easily modified by on-board modelling electronics, as in the Line 6 Variax brand of electric guitars, the guitars allow for a variety of different sounds to be obtained by digitally manipulating the signal. This allows a guitar to mimic many vintage models of guitar, as well as output alternate tunings without the need to adjust the strings.
Another use for hexaphonic pickups is to send the output signals to a MIDI interpretation device, which determines the note pitch, duration, attack and decay characteristics and so forth. The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) interpreter then sends the note information to a sound bank device. The resulting sound can closely mimic numerous types of instrument.
On guitars that have them, these components and the wires that connect them allow the player to control some aspects of the sound like volume or tone. These at their simplest consist of passive components such as potentiometers and capacitors, but may also include specialized integrated circuits or other active components requiring batteries for power, for preamplification and signal processing, or even for assistance in tuning. In many cases the electronics have some sort of shielding to prevent pickup of external interference and noise.
Lining, Binding, Purfling
The top, back and ribs of an acoustic guitar body are very thin (1-2 mm), so a flexible piece of wood called lining is glued into the corners where the rib meets the top and back. This interior reinforcement provides 5 to 20 mm of solid gluing area for these corner joints. Solid linings are often used in classical guitars, while kerfed lining is most often found in steel string acoustics. Kerfed lining is also called kerfing (because it is scored, or kerfed to allow it to bend with the shape of the rib).
During final construction, a small section of the outside corners is carved or routed out and then filled with binding material on the outside corners and decorative strips of material next to the binding, which are called purfling. This binding serves to seal off the endgrain of the top and back. Purfling can also appear on the back of an acoustic guitar, marking the edge joints of the two or three sections of the back. Binding and purfling materials are generally made of either wood or plastic.
Bridge and Saddle
The main purpose of the bridge on an acoustic guitar is to transfer the vibration from the strings to the soundboard, which vibrates the air inside of the guitar, thereby amplifying the sound produced by the strings. The bridge is the wooden base support to distribute the vibration from the saddle to the soundboard and sized to resist the strings from pulling it off the soundboard by sufficient gluing surface. The saddle of an acoustic guitar rests in a slot in the wooden bridge and supports the strings. Saddle materials are important to assure good transfer of the string vibration to the soundboard.
On both electric and acoustic guitars, the bridge holds the strings in place on the body. There are many varied bridge designs. There may be some mechanism for raising or lowering the bridge to adjust the distance between the strings and the fretboard (action), and/or fine-tuning the intonation of the instrument. Some are spring-loaded and feature a “whammy bar”, a removable arm which allows the player to modulate the pitch moving the bridge up and down. The whammy bar is sometimes also referred to as a “tremolo bar” (see Tremolo for further discussion of this term – the effect of rapidly changing pitch produced by a whammy bar is more correctly called “vibrato”). Some bridges also allow for alternate tunings at the touch of a button.
On almost all modern electric guitars, the bridge is adjustable for each string so that intonation stays correct up and down the neck. If the open string is in tune but sharp or flat when frets are pressed, the bridge can be adjusted with a screwdriver or hex key to remedy the problem. In general, flat notes are corrected by moving the bridge forward and sharp notes by moving it backwards. On an instrument correctly adjusted for intonation, the actual length of each string from the nut to the bridge saddle will be slightly but measurably longer than the scale length of the instrument. This additional length is called compensation, which flattens all notes a bit to compensate for the sharping of all fretted notes caused by stretching the string during fretting.
Also known as a scratchplate. This is usually a piece of laminated plastic or other material that protects the finish of the top of the guitar from damage due to the use of a plectrum or fingernails. Electric guitars sometimes mount pickups and electronics on the pickguard. It is a common feature on steel-string acoustic guitars. Vigorous performance styles such as flamenco, which can involve the use the guitar as a percussion instrument, call for a scratchplate to be fitted to nylon-string instruments.
The Vibrato (pitch bend) unit found on many electric guitars has also had slang terms applied to it, such as “tremolo bar (or arm)”, “sissy bar”, “wang bar”, “slam handle”, “whammy handle”, and “whammy bar”. The latter two slang terms led stompbox manufacturers to use the term ‘whammy’ in coming up with a pitch raising effect introduced by popular guitar effects pedal brand “Digitech”.
Leo Fender, who did much to create the electric guitar, also created much confusion over the meaning of the terms “tremolo” and “vibrato”, specifically by misnaming the “tremolo” unit on many of his guitars and also the “vibrato” unit on his “Vibrolux” amps. In general, vibrato is a variation in pitch, whereas tremolo is a variation in volume, so the tremolo bar is actually a vibrato bar and the “Vibrolux” amps actually had a tremolo effect. However, following Fender’s example, electric guitarists traditionally reverse these meanings when speaking of hardware devices and the effects they produce. See vibrato unit for a more detailed discussion, and tremolo arm for more of the history.
A distinctly different form of mechanical vibrato found on some guitars is the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, commonly called Bigsby. This vibrato wraps the strings around a horizontal bar, which is then rotated with a handle by the musician.
Another type of pitch bender is the B-Bender, a spring and lever device mounted in an internal cavity of a solid body electric, guitar that allows the guitarist to bend just the B string of the guitar using a lever connected to the strap handle of the guitar. The resulting pitch bend is evocative of the sound of the pedal steel guitar.
Strip of fabric with a leather or synthetic leather piece on each end. Made to hold a guitar via the shoulders, at an adjustable length to suit the position you favour in guitar-playing.
Though a guitar may be played on its own, there are a variety of common accessories used for holding and playing the guitar.
Capotasto – Capo
A capodastra (or capo, cejilla in Spanish) is used to change the pitch of open strings. Capos are clipped onto the fret board with the aid of spring tension, or in some models, elastic tension. To raise the guitar’s pitch by one semitone, the player would clip the capo onto the fret board just below the first fret. Their use allows a player to play in different keys without having to change the chord formations they use. Because of the ease with which they allow guitar players to change keys, they are sometimes referred to as “cheaters”. Classical performers are known to use them to enable modern instruments to match the pitch of historical instruments such as the renaissance lute.
A slide, (neck of a bottle, knife blade or round metal bar) used in blues and rock to create a glissando or ‘hawaiian’ effect. The necks of bottles were often used in blues and country music. Modern slides are constructed of glass, plastic, ceramic, chrome, brass or steel, depending on the weight and tone desired. An instrument that is played exclusively in this manner, (using a metal bar) is called a steel guitar or pedal steel. Slide playing to this day is very popular in blues music and country music. Some slide players use a so called Dobro guitar.
Some performers that have become famous for playing slide are Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Ry Cooder, George Harrison, Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Duane Allman, Muddy Waters and Rory Gallagher.
A variety of guitar picks
A “guitar pick” or “plectrum” is a small piece of hard material which is generally held between the thumb and first finger of the picking hand and is used to “pick” the strings. Though most classical players pick solely with their finger nails, the “pick” is often used for electric and some acoustic guitars. Though today they are mainly plastic, variations do exist, such as bone, wood, steel or tortoise shell. Tortoise shell was the most commonly used material in the early days of pick making but as tortoises became more and more endangered, the practice of using their shells for picks or anything else was banned. Tortoise shell picks are often coveted for a supposedly superior tone and ease of use.
Picks come in many shapes and sizes. Picks vary from the small jazz pick to the large bass pick. The thickness of the pick often determines its use. A thinner pick (between .2 and .5 mm) is usually used for strumming or rhythm playing, whereas thicker picks (between .7 and 1.5+ mm) are usually used for single-note lines or lead playing. The distinctive guitar sound of Billy Gibbons is attributed to using a quarter or peso as a pick. Similarly, Brian May is known to use a sixpence coin as a pick.
Thumb picks and finger picks that attach to the finger tips are sometimes employed in finger-picking styles.
- Kasha, Dr. Michael (August 1968). “A New Look at The History of the Classic Guitar”. Guitar Review 30,3-12
- A Brief History of the Guitar http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/handbook/BriefHistory.html
- Kithara appears in the Greek New Testament four times (1 Cor. 14:7, Rev. 5:8, 14:2 and 15:2), and is usually translated into English as harp. Strong’s Concordance Number: 2788
- Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved on 2007-09-21.
- Summerfield, Maurice J. (2003). The Classical Guitar, It’s Evolution, Players and Personalities since 1800 (5th ed.) Blaydon on Tyne: Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 1-872-63946-1.
- Viking Art & Architecture
- A Look At The History Of The Guitar
- The Classical Mandolin by Paul Sparks (1995)
- Early Romantic Guitar
- The Guitar and Its Music: From the Renaissance to the Classical Era by James Tyler (2002)
- Evans, Tom and MaryAnne (1977). Guitars: Music, history, Construction and Players from the Renaissance to Rock, 42. ISBN 0-448-22240-X.
- The Official Steve Vai Website – www.vai.com > The Machines > Steve’s Guitars
- Mottola, R.M.. Lutherie Info – Calculating Fret Positions.
- Flamenco! The Guitar and the Music – An Indiana University research paper on Flamenco, the indigenous music of the Gypsies of southern Spain, written by Jeff Foster, 1987.
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